Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Part 64 - The Tri-C JazzFest
"It was a dream," said Dr. Thomas Horning of Cuyahoga Community College, "but I thought it could work."
Musician and educator Reginald Buckner, who was an artist-in-residence at Tri-C in 1979, suggested the school try to present a jazz festival. Horning asked leaders of the Northeast Jazz Society to help line up artists for the first two-day event in 1980. They booked drummer Buddy Rich, pianist McCoy Tyner, and pianist and bandleader Earl "Fatha" Hines.
A key figure in jazz history, Hines was the man who set the stage for the important educational element of JazzFest. Horning said, "Earl came over and met with our students and worked with them. It was a sign of what was to come for us."
The modest festival struggled for the first few years, but gradually grew in general popularity. By 1984, the festival was extended to ten days including its first standing-room-only crowd for a concert by saxophonist Sonny Rollins. The Tri-C JazzFest was becoming a major annual community event in Cleveland. Looking back, Horning said, "In terms of cultural events, it has evolved into one of the major cultural events of the city of Cleveland and we're very pleased that it has."
1984 was the also the first year that a well-known jazz musician served as the JazzFest artist-in-residence. The first was guitarist Mundell Lowe. He was followed by Clark Terry. "We think of Clark as the father of our educational programs," said Horning. "He spent ten days here in 1985. We went fro school to school throughout Cuyahoga County, visiting dozens of school bands. He was so energetic, but he collapsed after the ten days. We ran him ragged." Terry continued to serve as the honorary chairman of JazzFest. Other artists-in-residents have included Billy Taylor, Ellis Marsalis, Gary Burton, Rufus Reid, James Williams, Marcus Belgrave, Bobby Watson and Joe Lovano.
During the 1980s the National Association of Jazz Educators called the Tri-C JazzFest "the nation's premier educational jazz festival."
The long list of concert performers over the years has included: Woody Herman, Milt Hinton, Max Roach, Betty Carter, George Shearing, Louie Bellson, Ray Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Williams, Wynton Marsalis, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Carmen McRae, Oscar Peterson, the Count Basie Orchestra and Ella Fitzgerald. Horning recalled, "It was wonderful getting Ella to come here. She was not well at the time but sang like Ella of earlier years. It wasn't very long after that she passed on. I think that may have been her last big jazz concert."
In 1999, the Tri-C JazzFest attracted international attention by spearheading the world's most extensive celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Duke Ellington.
The big-name concerts helped finance JazzFest's primary focus -- education. Thousands of young musicians got the opportunity to work with the best jazz musicians in the world. One of those young musicians was a pianist named LaFayette Carthon who was a student at the Cleveland School of the Arts. Carthon remembered, "It started when Clark Terry was the artist-in-residence, then Billy Taylor, Wynton Marsalis and Ellis Marsalis." Horning said, "It's great when a young artist can be inspired by the people who have come here." Another of the young musicians was Dominick Farinacci, a Solon High School student who was named to the Grammy Awards High School Jazz Band for two years and who was invited by Wynton Marsalis, whom he met at JazzFest, to solo with the Lincoln Center Jazz Band in New York in December of 2000. Horning said, "That's one of the things I'm most proud or right now, that our students in our jazz studies program are playing on a national level."
A couple of years ago, Horning was shown a videotape of children playing in Africa. One of the African kids was wearing a Tri-C JazzFest T-shirt. There is no doubt that the annual jazz festival has put Cleveland's little Cuyahoga Community College on the cultural map. Somebody once said, "The JazzFest is to Tri-C as football is to Notre Dame." Horning said, "I like that analogy because I went to Notre Dame too." The child in Africa probably knew nothing about Notre Dame football.
Tri-C JazzFest Artists-in-Residence
Copyright 2001 Joe Mosbrook
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You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. Mosbrook's 1993 Cleveland Jazz History book, based on research for earlier broadcasts, is available at some Cleveland area bookstores, libraries and the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society (216-426-9900).