By Mary-Justine Lanyon
(Photos by Mary-Justine Lanyon)
She gets great joy, Chris Levister said, out of awarding scholarships to students whose passion is music.
Levister, the president of the Blue Jay Jazz Foundation, was speaking to the Crestline-Lake Gregory Rotary Club, reminding them that the Blue Jay Jazz Festival is coming up on Aug. 24, 25 and 26.
“If you want to have a good time,” Levister said, “bring your dancing shoes on Aug. 24.” On that evening, Lisa Haley and the Zydekats will take the stage at Tavern Bay Beach Club. Long-time mountain residents will recall Haley’s performances here in years past. On one such occasion, Haley reminded Levister, she was playing her blue fiddle so hard and people were jumping up and down so enthusiastically, things were falling off the shelves at the Rite-Aid below where the concert took place that year.
“She kept fiddling,” Levister said, “and people kept dancing but we had to take some people off the dance floor.”
The second evening of the festival – Aug. 25, also at Tavern Bay – will present the Lao Tizer Band featuring Grammy-winning saxophonist Eric Marienthal. Levister noted that Marienthal raises thousands of dollars for help veterans. He played at the festival a couple of years ago to great acclaim.
The third performance will take place on Aug. 26 outdoors at the Lake Arrowhead Resort. Mountain resident and keyboardist George Whitty – who has won five Grammys and two Emmys – will perform with Andre Berry on bass and Joel Taylor on drums.
Levister asked the Rotarians to close their eyes and remember how they felt during the pandemic and then during this past winter’s snowstorms. “It wasn’t like when you could get out during a fire,” she said. “We couldn’t get out of our houses.
“Our students tried to carry on their lives during the pandemic. The Blue Jay Jazz Foundation has said that we have to pay attention to what happens in students’ lives when ours are upside down.
“It’s more so for them,” Levister said, “because they’re not used to it.”
The Foundation awards Future Generation Jazz scholarships every year. “I can’t begin to tell you the joy that gives us,” she said. When they raise enough money, they award $1,500 to each student.
One of the Foundation’s goals is to ensure that every student who wants to play an instrument has the opportunity to do so. To that end, they have established a lending library through which students can borrow an instrument for a year. When that year is up, the instrument is returned, cleaned and repaired if necessary and then can be borrowed again.
“We are so pleased to be there for young people who want to play,” Levister said.
She brought with her one of this year’s Future Generation Jazz scholars, Martina Urrutia.
Martina, who will be a senior at Rim High this year, demonstrated her prowess on the bass guitar, which she has been playing for two years.
“The amount of growth playing the guitar has given me personally is unimaginable,” she said. “I came out of my shell. I felt like a whole new person.”
Being part of the high school jazz band was very fulfilling, Martina said. “I went from a girl who just stayed home to being the bassist in the jazz band. It keeps me going. It motivates me. Even on days when I don’t want to go to school, I have to go because I have jazz band and want to be there for them.”
Martina noted that the other students in the jazz band are “such talented musicians. I want to express myself just like they do. We want to show people what we can do.
“I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for playing music,” Martina said. “Jazz has been so fulfilling for me. I want to spread that joy to other people.”
Martina said she and her fellow musicians talk to other students, encouraging them to take up an instrument. They tell those students that they will help them. And Kari Stebbing, the high school’s music director, “has helped me so much. She is with us every step of the way. She is one of the best music directors I’ve had.”
The series of snowstorms caused such disappointment for the jazz band, Martina said. They were supposed to go to a festival down the hill but, of course, could not. “Getting that festival canceled was a shot to the heart,” she said.
The jazz band was able to participate in a festival in April, where they took second place. “That was such an amazing experience and we had so much fun. We learned so much from viewing other musicians perform. It made my heart sing – it was really moving.
“Music impacts me on so many levels like nothing else can,” Martina said. “It’s a way to communicate and connect with others, a way to express yourself.”
Future Generation Jazz scholar David Anderson was also to have come to the Rotary meeting but he was tapped to train to become part of the U.S. Marine Corps band, a prestigious opportunity, Levister said. “He felt so bad he couldn’t come today,” she said.
Martina called David “one of the most amazing, creative and gifted people I know. He fills the whole room with his presence. Playing music with him is one of the most amazing things.”
The other Future Generation Jazz scholars, who will perform at the Aug. 24 concert, are Dylan Witter, Chris Whitty and Ara Tokatlian.
For more information on the jazz festival and to purchase tickets, visit www.bluejayjazz.org.