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Tucson jazzed for outdoor concert series

Citizen Staff Writer

Not only has April been designated Jazz Appreciation Month by the Smithsonian Institution, but the Tucson Jazz Society has designated this month to begin its five-concert showcase of local jazz heroes.

Add to that, a rare appearance by alto sax legend Bud Shank with nationally ranked tenor man Doug Webb.

A seventh concert featuring Baked Apple favorites from Phoenix – Judy Roberts and Greg Fishman – will cap the series and send us into summer.

Unofficially, this swinging spring project for TJS is a return to the organization’s grass roots as a bunch of people who simply love jazz and want to share the love. It hasn’t always been easy.

The last few years saw the society stage a number of high-profile events that, basically, suffered from too much optimism and not enough financial support. As TJS sank under a tsunami of red ink, the national economy was also collapsing.

Last January, the group’s board decided to release their salaried staff and go it alone as an all-volunteer organization. Just like it was in 1977 when a couple of dozen like-minded folks met one weekend afternoon at the Jazz Showcase nightclub on Grant Road.

That building was torn down a long time ago. Some of the original members are still in town, though, and still active in TJS. They and many newer members are determined to prove jazz will maintain a presence in our city’s reputation as an arts oasis of the Southwest.

At one point in its history, the Tucson Jazz Society boasted the second-largest membership of all the nation’s community jazz organizations, approaching an estimated 3,000 card-carrying supporters. Several unfortunate changes in leadership took their toll, however, and now the unofficial count is about half that.

Led by a very determined Jeffrey Lewis as board president, TJS wants to get back to those times when the music was the most important part. There is just something mystical – religious, almost – about being in a big group of people all tapping their feet in the same rhythm to the same music at the same time.

It is also special to have a chance to hear musicians perform in an open-air setting, without the noise of clattering glasses and other people’s conversations like in a restaurant or bar.

These musicians, after all, have spent a major portion of their lives learning to navigate the spaces between all those notes in all those scales for all those keys. Plus the drummers, who have developed multitasking into a fine art. Literally. In light of all this, respectful listening doesn’t seem too much to ask.

One of the first achievements of the fledgling TJS back in 1980 was to establish an annual tribute to women in jazz. The Primavera Festival is now the nation’s longest-running celebration of groovy female musicians.

So it is entirely appropriate that this turning point concert series for TJS opens with Sunday’s show featuring a trio of songbird jazzers – Crystal Stark, Julie Anne and Kathryn Byrnes. Each of these ladies enjoys a successful solo career, but they will surely be singing some three-part harmony, as well, flipping through the classic jazz songbook.

All of the concerts will run on successive Sundays through May 17 at St. Philip’s Plaza.


The lowdown

• Sunday – Crystal Stark, Julie Anne and Kathryn Byrnes

• April 12 – tenor saxophonist Greg Armstrong and Friends

• April 19 – reedmen Bud Shank and Doug Webb

• April 26 – vocalist Joe Bourne and the Cool Ditties of Jazz

• May 3 – Nossa Bossa Nova, the duo of Theresa and Mike Levy

• May 10 – Orquesta La Unica play salsa, led by Amilcar Guevara

• May 17 – Judy Roberts, singer/pianist, costars with Greg Fishman, tenor sax

When: 7 to 9 p.m.

Where: St. Philip’s Plaza, 4280 N. Campbell Ave. (at East River Road)

Price: Tickets for each show are $20 general admission, $15 for TJS members, $10 for students.

Info: tucsonjazz.org

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