By Mary-Justine Lanyon
They were two perfect evenings – cooler temperatures, a light breeze, lots of great food and drink, conversations with friends and, of course, spectacular jazz.
The occasion was the Blue Jay Jazz Festival, which took place at Tavern Bay Beach Club, thanks to the gracious hospitality of the Arrowhead Lake Association.
The festival kicked off on Thursday evening with the very talented Cal Baptist University Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Dan St. Marseille. The ensemble led with “Java Junction,” followed by “On Green Dolphin Street” and “God Bless the Child,” featuring saxophonist Melody Leon.
The Cal Baptist musicians were then joined by the three Future Generation Jazz scholarships winners – William Rubio on drums and Jonathan Angel and Veronica Young on trumpet. The recent Rim High graduates played “Take the A Train” and “Tenor Madness” with the college students.
The energy and joy in the crowd were palpable as the crowd of several hundred people showed their appreciation for the young musicians.
“This is not just a concert,” said Chris Levister, president of the Blue Jay Jazz Foundation. “It’s about lifting up the future.”
Hugh Bialecki, one of the Foundation’s board members, presented William, Jonathan and Veronica with their scholarships while Dr. Ted Alejandre, the superintendent of schools for San Bernardino County, looked on.
“Our high schools have really promoted the arts,” Dr. Alejandre said. “When you have students like these, they really have themselves a future.”
Following the intermission, Levister asked the crowd if they “were ready to rumble with Rod Piazza.” Piazza had just donated two harmonicas to Blue Jay Jazz.
He first introduced pianist Sonny Leyland, known for specializing in early American piano styles like boogie woogie, blues and ragtime. Leyland immediately launched into some lively boogie woogie which drew a crowd of dancers to the floor.
Then, to the delight of the crowd, first Jonathan Angel joined Rod Piazza & the West Coast Wizards on trumpet on one number, followed by William Rubio on drums on another. Unfortunately, Veronica Young had another commitment and was excused from the concert early.
Many of the same guests were back for another evening of jazz on Aug. 27, joined by some new faces. The big surprise for the night was that new full-time mountain resident Ernie Hudson stepped up onto the stage to introduce Patrice Rushen. She was joined by her “friends” – Freddie Washington on bass, Rayford Griffin on drums, Paul Jackson Jr. on guitar and Michael Paulo on sax.
During intermission, Levister brought mountain resident, actress and singer Gloria Loring to the stage to announce the newly created Gloria Loring Award for Vocal Achievement.
“I suggested creating this award,” Loring said, “so the recipient will feel it’s OK and say, ‘I can do this.’”
But that was not all. Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford joined Loring and Levister on the stage to present Loring with a special certificate of recognition for her support of music in the Rim school district and through the Blue Jay Jazz Foundation.
Rutherford recalled sitting with Loring at a dinner several years ago when local politics were in turmoil. “She said to me, ‘I bet you’d rather talk about anything but politics,’” Rutherford said, adding that Loring asked her what she likes to do. When Rutherford said she loves to read, Loring steered the conversation to books. The two women discovered a shared love of the work of Louise Penny. Later Loring shared that she is currently reading Penny’s most recent book.
Four students who were either past scholarship winners or had played a key role in Rim’s bands – Alex Richardson, Evan Kraskin, Lacy Machal and Olivia Clark – then came to the stage to share their current success.
When Olivia said she had been the first scholarship winner in 2008, Loring remembered singing with her.
“Speaking of singing,” Olivia said, heading to the microphone. She sang a beautiful arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as a tribute to Loring, who stood there with an expression of appreciation and wonder on her face.
“Music has been the way I created relationships with people,” Loring said.
Levister added, “Music is the great uniter.”
For more information on the Blue Jay Jazz Foundation, visit bluejayjazz.org.