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All That Jazz
by Andrew L. McFarlane
Suttons Bay Jazzfest Web Site

Suttons Bay Jazzfest
NOTE: This article was written in 1996. The Jazzfest continues to be held on the fourth Saturday of July every summer. Visit their web site for complete information!
On Saturday, July 26th from Noon to 9PM under the big tent, the Suttons Bay Chamber of Commerce, Suttons Bay Rotary, a number of Leelanau restaurants, the four Leelanau wineries and other businesses will be sponsoring the Fourth Annual Jazzfest at the Suttons Bay Marina. The Jazzfest benefits a variety of projects, including the Rotary's Suttons Bay Youth Program. Last year's Jazzfest was attended by around 4,000 people and the organizers are expecting even more this year.

In an earlier interview, Harry Goldson, Steve Sandner, and Gary Carden sat down to explain not only what they and their groups would be playing at the Jazzfest, but where they came from and who they're bringing with them.

Steve Sandner, who lives in Suttons Bay, was a member of the Traverse City Jazz Quartet. He has toured the Far East with his own quartet and is fresh off a winter stint with his trio at the famed Intercontinental Hotel and most of the other top spots in Chicago. He is considered one of the finest jazz pianists in the Chicago area. He also hosts a jazz show on WNMC. As to why he plays for a living, Steve says, quite simply: "I don't know how to do anything else. "

The Steve Sandner Trio will feature Steve on piano and vocals. Joining him will be Greg Sergo of Chicago on drums, whom you may have heard on National Public Radio with his band "Ellington Dynasty". Greg currently plays with the Judy Roberts Trio of Chicago. The rhythm section is filled out by Stewart Miller of Lexington, Kentucky. He played two years with the latter-day Glenn Miller Orchestra and currently performs with Greg in the Judy Roberts Trio and the Brad Goode Quintet. The Trio will kick things off at noon and return just after two with vocalist Samantha Moore.

Following the Sandner Trio will be the Harry Goldson Sextet. In addition to Harry, a lifelong jazzman whose history we will probe more a little later, the Sextet features Steve Little on guitar, Jim Cooper on the vibes, and Steve Sander, Greg Sergo and Stew Miller.

Perhaps the most interesting story of the Jazzfest is that behind the Slabtown Marching Society. Slabtown itself was a sort of shanty village along the shores of Traverse Bay and headquarters in the 20s and 30s of the original Slabtown Marching Society, a group that brought known players like Peewee Hunt, Bob Scoby, and Clancy Hayes to Traverse City to play for parties at private residences. The Slabtown Marching Society (SMS) still brings name musicians to the area, although now in a different way.

The Big Band

Bandleader Carden ran down the impressive lineup of the SMS for the Jazzfest. Joining the SMS this year are Ed Fedewa, the number two player at Michigan State on the upright bass, Carl Knox on alto sax and Scott McNeking at the lead trombone. John Wynn plays all the reeds, featuring clarinet and straight and curved soprano sax. Gary taps him as the strongest, straight-ahead mainstream player in the country. Hal Smith of Saginaw, now a teacher, handles the second trombone. Bill Brown, who records as William, plucks the banjo. On the albino baby grand piano is perhaps the most aptly named musician in history, John Hammer. Bob Thibideau, who sat in with Buddy Morrow at age 13 in Detroit, keeps them all honest on drums and percussion

Harry Goldson plays clarinet and sax and has a story about as long as Slabtown's. He has played and learned from the likes of Henry Bussey, Claude Thornhill, Chuck Foster, Buddy DeVito, and Teddy Phillips. He talked about the origination of the "Chicago Era" sound, what Slabtown will be projecting from the stage at the Marina.

When Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, and other players came up North from New Orleans, young and classically trained musicians such as Benny Goodman came across the tracks to the South Side to listen and learn. The result was "what white guys did to the music", a fusion of New Orleans blues and jazz, the Chicago sound. Harry emphasizes that this isn't Dixieland, at least not as we have come to think of it.

"This is real jazz. Straight ahead Chicago swing."

Gary Carden pulls it all together for the Slabtown Marching Society. Known as the "Owl Man" in some elite circles for his thick glasses, his cornet play and grasp of the music make Slabtown work. Gary has also pulled together the Gary Carden Big Band, seventeen musicians from around the world. I asked about last year's Jazzfest and it seemed to be a shared feeling that a great audience, fine day, and a solid musical lineup made for a memorable day which can only be enhanced by the food and wine and this years performers.

"It was a perfect setup. We didn't lose a thing. The sound was so bright." As Gary said that, I could see his eyes shining like brass in the sun. The music is set and the stage is ready. All that remains is to do is what these three and the musicians they're bringing were born to do.

article previously appeared in the Lake Country Gazette

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