The Dixieland sound of the Big Easy is coming home to Three Rivers for a long spring weekend.
The canyons and hills of Kaweah River country will echo again with the sounds of New Orleans-style Dixieland jazz April 13-15, as the 45th annual Sierra Traditional Jazz Club’s JazzAffair 2018 rambles, rolls and high steps its way into town.
Jazz Jumps Friday
The rhythms pick up Friday afternoon, swings all day Saturday and stretches long into Sunday afternoon at a trio of venues among the oaks, pines and rocky hillsides. Three Rivers’ own High Sierra Jazz Band headlines the festival, joined by acts from around the world. Notables include Cornet Chop Suey, the Sonny Leland House Party and Dixie Dominus.
“They just knock you down,” says event organizer Stan Johnson of this year’s lineup.
Pianos and banjos will bang out chord-filled rhythms while clarinets and horns celebrate the melodies starting at 2:45 Friday afternoon, as High Sierra opens the show at the Three Rivers Lions Roping Arena. At the same moment, Cornet Chop Suey starts doing its thing at St. Anthony’s Retreat, and the stylings of the Blue Street Jazz Band will fill the Three Rivers Memorial Building.
In all, half a dozen bands–including the Grand Dominion Jazz Band, and Tom Rigney with Flambeau–will perform all weekend long during a rotation schedule that will see every band perform at each of the three venues. A shuttle is available to take attendees between sites.
The weekend ends with a final performance from High Sierra at 3:45 Sunday afternoon at the Roping Arena.
Old-Time Jazz ‘Festival’
The music won’t be the only throwback to a bygone age. Johnson says JazzAffair 2018 harkens to the early days of jazz in Three Rivers, when locals came together to start a club to support the local boys in the band.
“As the band traveled around to other places to what I’m calling ‘festivals,’ they thought they could do it here,” Johnson said. “It started very small–the school gym, the White Horse Restaurant. They were all over.”
Each band will play seven sets, and special guests will sit in from time to time.
When the Sierra Traditional Jazz Club began, the band’s monthly performances were one of the biggest thing going in Three Rivers.
“They’d get 250 people. It would be huge,” Johnson said. “You joined the club and you got to come for free. It wasn’t very much to join. They started having potlucks. Sometimes one of the restaurants would cater it.”
Making New Musicians
JazzAffair isn’t just big entertainment. It’s also a big fundraiser for the Sierra Traditional Jazz Club, as well as the Three Rivers Lions Club, local middle-school students, and budding area musicians. All of it is done with volunteer labor.
“We send kids to jazz camps. We have a kid going to Berkeley,” Johnson said. Any profit the club earns go toward making musicians. “The left over funds have been allocated to scholarships. It’s a big challenge.”
Besides providing their Roping Arena, the Lions Club provides drinks and food at all three venues. Seventh-graders from Three Rivers Union School serve breakfast, lunch and dinner at the school’s cafeteria, with the proceeds paying for their annual eighth-grade trip.
Those who won’t attend the festival can still bid on silent auction items and buy raffle tickets at the Roping Arena, and get an earful of jazz for their good effort, Johnson said.
Volunteers Keep Jazz Alive
Three Rivers’ weekend of jazz is unusual for its longevity. Many other longtime festivals have disappeared and that, says Johnson, has helped JazzAffair keep going, as more aficionados now make their way here. The other factor is JazzAffair’s unpaid staff.
“One of the things that’s helped us is a number of big festivals like ours have dropped off the map,” Johnson said. “The thing that’s different is we’re all volunteers. If we had to take a salary, we just couldn’t operate.”
Big donors also contribute, but the mainstays are the festival and the roster of club members. The club would like to see its ranks grow, and is offering half-price tickets to those who pay the $50-per-couple cost of joining up. Membership includes four performances of the High Sierra Jazz Band annually. Individual memberships are $35 each, and include the 50%-off offer.
Badges for the three-day JazzAffair are $100 (or $50 for membership, plus $50 per pass), with additional passes for $50. Tickets to the Lions Recognition Dinner at 5pm Thursday, April 12, are $15. Admission is free for children 12 or younger.
For more information, call (559) 561-1621 or visit jazzaffair.info.