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A golden day: The first Bob James Jazz Fest exceeds expectations

Posted Thursday, June 30, 2011, at 12:57 PM

Bob James appears in a video on a large screen to introduce saxophonist Bobby Watson at the first Bob James Jazz Festival Saturday, May 21. The video, including an interview with Mr. James, is available online (see below).
"When I see all the faces of these people -- they're loving the music, and I get to hear the bands I love -- it's perfect."
--Jill Murray, organizer of the Bear Creek Blues Festival

Jill is describing what it's like when nearly a year of planning and promoting and arranging millions of details is done, and the event is unfolding, the music filling hearts and moving feet. It's that feeling of satisfaction that keeps her and her team of dedicated volunteers coming back year after year to put together the Bear Creek Blues Festival.

That's just how the organizers of the first Bob James Jazz Festival felt during the event May 21, and it's what will keep us coming back year after year to keep Marshall newest music event going.

It wasn't just us organizers and volunteers who had the sense that things had gone well. I talked to Clarence Smith, the Kansas City jazz educator and performer who coordinated the festival clinic and performed with the Smith and Athon Group during the concert.

He said, "This was a golden day!"

Other performers, including Joe Athon and D.J. Sweeney, said they had a great time, too.

And patrons seemed very pleased with the concert. In comments after the concert and in written evaluation forms, the response was almost entirely positive.

"I liked everything about this jazz fest. It was well put together, enjoyable, there was enough variety in the groups to keep our interest, the level of talent was amazing for a first-time, small town festival," said one patron.

"Marshall should be proud of starting this festival in such a fantastic way," said another.

I think we were all just knocked over by the performances.

Joe and D.J. are wonderful singers with distinctive styles, and they had incredible musicians to back them up, some of the best Kansas City has to offer: Kevin Frazee and Clarence Smith on drums, James Albright and Bill McKemy on bass, Will Matthews and Danny Embrey on guitar and Ryan Howard on piano.

And Bobby Watson showed us all why he's considered a class act by jazz lovers around the world. Mr. Watson was a joy to hear. He has a warm, delightful stage presence, and he brought virtuosity and energy to the stage of Eckilson-Mabee Auditorium.

He was backed by Marshall drummer Jay Buck, plus Smith, Albright and Embrey.

A few people made suggestions they would like to see next year, of course. A couple of patrons said the concert was too long. One found the price of tickets and food to be just right, but a couple of others thought it was a bit expensive.

But overall, there was more to be happy about than not. People loved the music and enjoyed the food. The musicians had fun and put on a great show. The volunteers worked hard but had fun, too.

The clinic was a blast, too. We had a dozen musicians from varied backgrounds, from a few college jazz musicians to a young pianist to a few experienced adult musicians who hadn't played -- or at least hadn't played jazz -- in years. And we had several members of the Gilliam area rock band Line of Atrophy.

In the cinic were Trey Beerman, Steve Green, Megan Hager, Adam Hubbard, Josh Hubbard, Josh Knox, Jacob Martin, Blake Phillips, Scott and Kathleen Schmidtke, James Withers and Caleb Zimmerschied.

The morning session was mostly assessment and instruction, and then in the afternoon, clinicians Clarence Smith, Joe Athon and Bill McKemy taught the group three jazz numbers. With only a couple of hours to learn the music and practice, the participants bravely took the stage to open the concert.

They did a fine job, everyone even taking solos. I was impressed with their courage, but they sounded good, too!

It was a golden day. If not perfect, it was sure close.

The planning committee has been busy sending out thank-you notes since (if you haven't gotten yours, it's coming). There were so many people and businesses to thank! And that's the reason everything worked so well. The community got behind the idea early and provided great support, everything from finanicial and in-kind contributions to volunteer labor and good advice.

I can tell you that everyone involved in the project feels grateful, blessed. We're already hard at work on next year's event. We hope to see even more people there!


Bob James interview:
D.J. Sweeney set:
Smith & Athon Group set:

There was one serious blemish on the otherwise wonderful experience.

I recorded excerpts of the clinic and concert in order to keep a record and have something to share with the world, to provide a taste of the event. You may notice above that there's no clip of Bobby Watson's set.

Shortly after the festival, my computer hard drive failed. Died. Expired. And it took all the data with it, utterly and irretrievably, including the festival video.

I was able to get from the original tapes most of the concert footage, but as (bad) luck would have it, I'd already started re-using the tape with Mr. Watson's set on it, and there was no getting back the last half of his performance.

What makes the loss even worse is the fact that Marshall drummer Jay Buck joined the band, taking the sticks from Clarence Smith, at just about the point where the recording is overwritten.

He did a great job, too, and I'm very sorry the recording of his performance was lost.

I wonder if anyone else who was there took any video? If so, I'd sure be grateful if you'd be willing to share! I'm going to try to put together a presentable clip of the first half of Mr. Watson's performance, but I'm still hoping someone out there was able to capture the rest.

If you did, contact me at ewcrump@sbcglobal.net. Thanks!

Showing comments in chronological order
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If any video footage exist's out there of the full set of Bobby Watson please contact Jay Buck directly at.. drummerjaybuck@yahoo.com Thank's!

-- Posted by welltraveledguy on Tue, Jun 28, 2011, at 5:31 PM

Has anyone read the history of Marshall in the recent magazine supplement? For notable Marshallites it lists Bob James, Shannon Bair, the Bachelor contestant, and Twila Tanner, Survivor participant.

How can you possibly compare the career of Bob James with these TV show contestants and their "15 minutes of fame." Can we possibly find someone at the Dem-News with some perspective?

-- Posted by raysfan on Mon, Jul 4, 2011, at 9:15 PM

Another missing notable is the multi-talented, Marshall-born Mike Henderson.

From http://www.kqed.org/arts/programs/spark/...

"Born in the small farming town of Marshall, Missouri, in 1944, Mike Henderson was supposed to work in the local factory with his father. But his passion for art led him across the country to one of the first integrated art schools in the United States, the San Francisco Art Institute. He earned a B.F.A. in 1969 and an M.F.A. in 1970. Henderson has been teaching art and art history at the University of California at Davis ever since, and he is considered a prominent figure among the second generation of Bay Area abstract painters."

So he's blues, not jazz, but wouldn't a display of his paintings be a grand complement to next year's Jazz Fest?

More info:




-- Posted by Pragmatist on Sat, Jul 30, 2011, at 11:03 AM
Thank you for the introduction to another Marshall artist!

Oops. Previous post neglected to mention his musical talents:

"Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Mike Henderson carved a niche for himself as a session guitarist over the years in the Nashville studio scene before he began recording under his own name with his own blues band, the Bluebloods. He began playing mandolin and moved from Missouri to Nashville. Trained as a mandolin player and flat-top guitarist, he soon found work in the Nashville studio scene as a slide guitarist.

"Henderson's albums on the Dead Reckoning label include Edge of Night (1994), First Blood (1996), and Oakland Blues (1998). Henderson uses a stellar lineup of supporting musicians on First Blood -- Reese Wynans, Glenn Worf, and John Gardner -- making it one of the best (and unfortunately most overlooked) releases of 1996.

"Collectively, these musicians have recorded and performed with John Hiatt, Emmylou Harris, ..."

Read the rest of the article at http://www.cmt.com/artists/az/henderson_...

-- Posted by Pragmatist on Sat, Jul 30, 2011, at 11:09 AM

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Eric Crump is a former editor of The Marshall Democrat-News. He lives elsewhere now but still loves Marshall and Saline County. He's trying to catch up on all the stories he should have written while he was on staff.
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