By Mary-Justine Lanyon
(Photos by Marilyn Mays)
The Blue Jay Jazz Festival began in 1991, Chris Levister, president of the Blue Jay Jazz Foundation, told members of the Women’s Club of Lake Arrowhead at their June 21 meeting.
“You may remember going to the festival on the roof in Blue Jay,” she said.
Levister had just been perusing some old programs. “Tickets were $5,” she noted. “It all started with the band from the Tonight Show in the parking lot of the Royal Oak. How far we have come!”
Five years ago, the Foundation realized there were a lot of young people who wanted to play instruments but their families could not afford the rental or purchase price.
“We have put together a program where we lend young people from elementary school to high school an instrument. They can borrow one free of charge,” she said.
“We have parents who call and say, ‘I can’t afford to rent or buy my child an instrument,’” Levister said, adding that a saxophone can cost $4,000.
She urged everyone to come out and support the Blue Jay Jazz Foundation at this year’s festival. “We put the proceeds in our education fund,” Levister said.
This year’s festival will take place over the course of three days at two venues. On Aug. 24, Lisa Haley and the Zydekats return. They will be joined at the Tavern Bay Beach Club by the Cal Baptist Jazz Ensemble and the Future Generation Jazz scholars.
On Aug. 25, also at Tavern Bay, the Lao Tizer Band, featuring saxophonist Eric Marienthal, will perform. And then, on Aug. 26, outdoors at the Lake Arrowhead Resort, the George Whitty Trio will perform. Tickets and more information are available at bluejayjazz.org.
This year’s Future Generation Jazz scholars include Martina Urrutia (bass), David Anderson (drums), Dylan Witter (guitar), Chris Whitty (piano) and Ara Tokatlian (vocals).
Levister had invited Ara Tokatlian to join her at the Women’s Club meeting. He was playing and singing songs like “Fly Me to the Moon” as folks arrived.
“I love the opportunity to play for you again,” Ara told the Women’s Club. He accompanied himself on the keyboard as he sang two songs: “Here, There and Everywhere” by The Beatles and “Golden Lady” by Stevie Wonder. He then picked up his sax and entertained the women with two pieces.
“Ara graduated with honors from Rim High this year,” Levister noted. “He’s playing his father’s sax. We’ve been giving him $100 here and there (so he can buy his own). If anyone would like to help him, let me know,” she said. “We have many young people like this in our schools and we have to help them.”
Ara will be playing at the festival on both Thursday and Friday evenings. His father, also named Ara, said they have found “lots of fantastic people here who are helping Ara become a more rounded artist. It’s not only the money but the fact you’re here and willing to listen and appreciate the music. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
“Music,” Levister said, “is the great uniter. I look forward to having you all use music as part of your life, as part of your sense of humanity.”