JazzFest offers explosion of musical styles

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published September 8, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 6, 2013 at 2:21 p.m.
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The 17-member Stardust Big Band will close out the 2013 Hot Springs JazzFest with a night of music and dance at the Crystal Ballroom of the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa on Sept. 15. The festival opens Sept. 10 with Piano-rama, a concert with several piano soloists.

HOT SPRINGS — Meredith Maddox Hicks is learning some new music for a performance next Friday night in Hot Springs. A violinist with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and a member of the symphony’s outstanding Quapaw String Quartet, Hicks said the new music is outside the norm, which makes it even better.

“Some of the music I have played before,” she said. “But there are a few I have never heard before, but it’s been arranged for the quartet, and it has some great jazz rhythms.”

The Quapaw Quartet will join the ATM Jazz Band and Hot Spring resident Diana Kesling, a former member of the Metropolitan Opera, for a performance as part of the 22nd annual Hot Springs JazzFest. The musicians will combine classical, light classics and jazz styles in Classical Jazz Explosion at the Five Star Theater in downtown Hot Springs.

“The concert is the highlight of what’s new and different for this year’s JazzFest,” said Gretchen Taylor, executive director of the jazz festival. “We are focusing on the evening concerts, and the Classical Jazz Explosion is generating a lot of excitement.”

The festival will open Tuesday with one of the most popular events every year — Piano-rama at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Taylor said the program offers artists from around the country playing all genres of jazz.

“They bring their own styles to jazz favorites such as swing, boogie-woogie and bebop,” she said. “The venues are small, so the concerts are more personal.”

On Wednesday, Jazz 101 will be presented in collaboration with the Garland County Library, where the event will be held.

“The musical offering will tell the history and evolution of jazz from its roots in New Orleans through ragtime and into swing and progressive jazz,” Taylor said.

The program, designed to educate and entertain the audience, includes Clyde Pound, the Hot Springs Jazz Society entertainment chairman and past president of the festival’s board of directors. Pound plays at the Piano-rama and handles keyboard for Shirley Chauvin’s band S’Wonderful at the Quapaw Baths & Spa on bathhouse row on Thursday nights.

Pound also leads the ATM Jazz Band and is the arranger for the jazz portion of the Classical Jazz Explosion on Thursday night.

“It’s not a new idea to mix classical and jazz, but it is the first time for the jazz festival,” said Pounds, who lives in Hot Springs. “The string quartet will do a classical set, then the combo will do a set with Diane, and then we will all play together.”

Pound said Kesling is an impressive improviser. The former member of the Met said she enjoys performing jazz.

“I like jazz, and I will do some songs from Showboat,” Kesling said. “I just fell into it. I probably enjoy singing like this more than I did opera. I don’t have to stay inside the lines.”

Hicks said much the same. She is known for her performances in several musical genres.

“I’m excited because this is so different,” she said. “We’re working on the arrangements from Clyde’s manuscripts for the jazz set. The quartet’s classic part will be very accessible. We are planning on playing a Mendelssohn string quartet that is very tuneful and some light classical — some things people have heard before.”

Pounds said Friday’s Five Star Theater will have cabaret-style seating for about 130 people. It is a ticketed event.

Saturday morning, the big free concert Jazz in the Streets will be held under the Broadway Street Sky Bridge with six Arkansas-based groups on two stages with music ranging from Dixieland to Latin jazz.

“It is a different mix for the outdoor concert,” Taylor said. “We are expecting a young crowd, so we will have the Delta Brass Express, the Henderson State [University] NuFusion jazz band and Calle Soul.”

Others performing at that concert will be the University of Arkansas at Monticello Jazz Band, the Spa City Stompers and the 106th Army National Guard Band. The free concert starts at 11 a.m. and concludes at 5 p.m. The festival organizers suggest that those planning to attend bring their own lawn chairs.

A Jazz Mass is scheduled for Sept. 15 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Spring Street, featuring live jazz with a service about jazz and Christianity.

The festival will end with the Stardust Big Band and a group of professional dancers from throughout the region performing at the Crystal Ballroom of the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa.

Taylor said tickets for events that require them can be purchased separately or in combinations. For more information about ticketed and free concerts, call (501) 627-2425 or email HSJazzSociety@gmail.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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