JazzSALive Celebrating 30 Years


The people of San Antonio know how to celebrate. And they know how to turn almost any event into a celebration.

Thirty years ago, the people of San Antonio turned out downtown to celebrate the refurbishment and grand reopening of Travis Park, and they did so with jazz.

Saturday and Sunday, the people of San Antonio, and jazz fans from outside S.A., will again gather in Travis Park, this time to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the free festival.

Travis Park was once farmland for Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), then farmland for Francisco Garcia and, in 1851, an orchard owned by Samuel Augustus Maverick. After Maverick died in 1870, the land was deeded to the city of San Antonio. By 1876, the space was a full-fledged park.

Since its inception, Jazz’SAlive has featured a mixture of area and touring bands. The debut lineup was heavy on traditional jazz with Jim Cullum’s Happy Jazz Band (now the Jim Cullum Jazz Band), Pete Fountain, clarinetist Herb Hall, the Dukes of Dixieland, Alamo City Jazz Band, the Trinity University Jazz Band, the Fifth U.S. Army Dixieland Combo, Lee Hopple’s Big Band, the Band Aids Jazz Band, Jazz S.A., the One O’ Clock Lab Band from North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas), and pianist Nobuko and her band.

“Is it true that it’s been 30 years since Jazz’SAlive started? I’m deeply moved to hear about it,” Nobuko messaged via Facebook from her home in Kumamoto, Japan. “It brings back my memories that we had to set the stage in the hot, hot weather, but we were very glad to do it for playing out loud.

“It was the time jazz was not happening much in San Antonio. It was great news for us jazz musicians. Jazz’SAlive introduced jazz to many people. I say congratulations to Jazz’SAlive and hope they can keep it for many more years.”

Like Jazz’SAlive, Nobuko is still going strong. She said she’s working at least four days a week.

The 30th edition will feature an array of area musicians, many of whom have been integral festival participants for years: Small World, Bett Butler & Joel Dilley, Beverly Houston, the West Side Horns, S.A. River Rats Brass Band, Regency Jazz Band, Ken Slavin, Joe Posada and First Light. Take Note, a youth band from the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, will kick things off at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

Headliners include saxophonist Ed Calle, world fusion group Hiroshima, jazz/pop/Caribbean sounds fusion group Spyro Gyra and pianist/composer Ramsey Lewis.

There’ll be a children’s jazz symposium at 10 a.m. Saturday on the Jefferson Street stage in Travis Park. At 10:30 a.m. Sunday, jazz/gospel vocalist Sylvia St. James will perform for a gospel brunch in the St. Anthony Hotel’s Anacacho Ballroom. Jazz’SAlive will end with a jam session in the St. Anthony Hotel’s Peacock Alley from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday and 10 p.m. to midnight Sunday.

Saxophonist Richard Garcia worked the first Jazz’SAlive with Nobuko. In 1986, Garcia led his band, First Light, into Travis Park for Jazz’SAlive. Garcia and First Light haven’t worked together much for a decade but will reunite for the 30th anniversary festival. Listen for the band to concentrate on original compositions and draw heavily from its “Ocean Lights” CD.

“I remember the first Jazz’SAlive,” Garcia said. “They didn’t have all the vendors they do now, and most of the bands were on the small stage. That was before the huge stage with the huge sound system. It was like when we first started doing the King William Fair. We used to play on front porches before it got to be like Night in Old San Antonio.

“I’m always surprised to see any venue, festival or event with jazz have any type of longevity. Jazz’SAlive has become stylish, it’s become an event. People came onboard and really made it happen. Jazz’SAlive features every type of jazz, traditional, straight-ahead, Latin, contemporary. It’s gratifying.”

Courtesy of the San Antonio Express News. Written by: Jim Beal
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