Originally published in Earshot Jazz February 2013
More than 80 student and adult jazz vocal ensembles will congregate in Edmonds, Washington from Thursday, February 28 through Saturday, March 2 for the 2013 DeMiero Jazz Festival. Daily performances and clinics from 8:30 to 4:00 are free and open to the public. Evening ticketed concerts start at 7:00 and feature internationally acclaimed guest artists.
Most educational jazz festivals center on a competition adjudicated by notable guest teachers and artists. Frank DeMiero had attended some festivals and judged at a few. “A lot of people didn’t get to take home a trophy,” he says. So 37 years ago, DeMiero originated a non-competitive vocal jazz festival with one goal – to give every participant an opportunity to be inspired, learn and take home helpful advice to advance their artistry. “What [all learners] need at those impressionable years is exemplary opportunities.”
DeMiero’s hope was to recruit “guest artists to work directly with kids so they will go on in life inspired to do their best.” He dreamed of a handful of outstanding singers he might invite to kick off the first festival. Topping the list was the baritone who got his big break with the Count Basie big band in the 1950’s – Joe Williams. “Naiveté is bliss,” DeMiero recounts.
Much to DeMiero’s delight, Williams said yes. When Williams showed up with several other musicians in tow, DeMiero approached him to compensate the additional artists. “Don’t worry about the money,” Williams said. “What’s more important is what we do here.”
“Every year we do more,” DeMiero says. To make sure no one will be turned away, the festival added two more facilities this year and expanded workshops for instrumentalists and directors who work with vocalists. During the day, ensembles perform and clinicians provide immediate feedback. Participants then attend clinics to hone their skills.
DeMiero and Edmonds Community College faculty member Kirk Marcy enlisted experienced and active educators to serve as clinicians. This year’s list of teachers includes Dave Barduhn, Rosanna Eckert, Greg Jasperse and Louise Rose.
Dee Daniels returns for a second year as Artistic Director and brings a passion for mixing things up on stage. Daniels says, “I like to break down the myth that singers don’t get along.”
Her first public demonstration of myth busting came at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival several years ago when she invited Roberta Gambarini and Evelyn White to crash her set. Spontaneous music making ensued. These great artists in the zone of the moment lifted the festival audience into the stratosphere.
At last year’s Demiero Festival, Daniels invited Greta Matassa and the New York Voices ensemble on stage for some off-the-cuff harmonizing. Another interstellar trip for all on board provided proof that improvisational flight paths are not the exclusive domain of instrumentalists.
“This year we will have five women,” Daniels says. “They all have different styles but a similar understanding. At the end of each night we will do something together.” Guest artists include singers Carmen Bradford, Deborah Brown, Charenee Wade and Greta Matassa, pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Jay Leonhart, drummer Alvester Garnett and trumpet/saxophone/flute master Jay Thomas.
“It’s not just about getting great guest artists,” Daniels says. “They must be able to teach as well. The emphasis is on encouragement and inspiration.” Daniels recalls watching Matassa last year teach a clinic on soloing. “She KNOWS. She tells the truth of the matter. She’s very intuitive and a great mentor.”
Maybe one of the reasons Matassa is such a good guide at the DeMiero Jazz Festival comes from her time as a student here 36 years ago. She snuck in below the minimum age of 15 and worked on performing “Here’s That Rainy Day.” “That’s when I decided to pursue music as a profession,” Matassa says. “I’ve been sneaking in ever since.”
Matassa knows that a dose of humor helps students learn. “Kids are vulnerable. I like to say one positive or humorous thing to get them off their guard, get them comfortable and relaxed to walk them through another way to make things better.” Matassa enjoys the craft of teaching because it develops great observational skills. “Usually it’s timing and rhythm – teaching a student how to dance.”
Daniels and Matassa have known DeMiero for decades. “I have been in this business many, many years,” DeMiero says. “There are very few people that do what those two can.” And the learning is not just for the students. DeMiero reports that some of the clinicians almost feel guilty about their job as a teacher because they learn from the experience too.
Tickets for evening concerts are available at edmondcenterforthearts.org.