The 38th Annual North Carolina Jazz Festival runs Thursday through Saturday, February 1-3 at the Hilton Riverside. Listen to Festival President Sandy Evans talk about some of the highlights above; read our extended conversation below.
Gina: Sandy, how long has this Jazz Festival been going on?
Sandy: This will be the 38th year, so 1980 was the beginning.
Gina: And how long have you been involved?
Sandy: Fifteen years. This is my 13th year as director of it.
Gina: And what is your relationship with jazz?
Sandy: I like to listen to it.
Gina: What kind of jazz do you like? Or what are you some of your favorites?
Sandy: Ah. Well, I really like almost all kinds of jazz. I guess I started out liking bebop because that was in the '50s and that was my era of beginning to notice different things like that. Then I went to Big Band. Love Stan Kenton's band and the big sound of the big band. But then I love all kinds of jazz, really.
One thing about the North Carolina Jazz Festival is that we try to show different styles of jazz, especially Thursday night. It started out for many years it was just traditional jazz but it has expanded somewhat because our audiences like to hear different kinds of jazz. And so that makes it really nice for us to be able to show off new musicians along with some of those who have been here before. We like to bring in young musicians. We like to have all kinds of different people. We've got three women this time that are going to be part of it. We usually do have two or three women onstage. It's not always as easy to find the women that have come this far in their profession because these are top notch jazz players that play all over the world.
Gina: Who are these three women?
Sandy: Strangely enough, two of them are Australian; Nikki Perrott is opening for us on Thursday night. She with her trio. Her piano player is Rossano Sportiello from Italy and her drummer is Eddie Metz from Florida. She is from Australia and she's been here quite a few times. Nikki plays bass as well as she's a vocalist. Then we will have Cynthia Sayer who is from New York and she is a world class banjo player. Cynthia is in the Banjo Hall of Fame. She is really a top notch musician and she's also a vocalist. And then the third one is Debbie Kennedy who is from Australia. Another interesting thing that is just coincidental- I did not know it when I hired them- but both Cynthia and Debbie play with the Woody Allen Jazz Band and have for several years.
Gina: Somehow when I think of Australia I don't think of jazz.
Sandy: No you're thinking of kangaroos in the outback. Last year we had a gal from Australia who played the didgeridoo. That wasn't what I hired her for but she brought it along and did play it during a couple of the sets. It was pretty cool.
Gina: Do you know what the timeline of like jazz appreciation has been in Australia? Like has it paralleled the United States or is it new there?
Sandy: I have no idea.
Gina: That that's be interesting to find out. Because I would imagine it wasn't hip there when it was rising here at the same time like it must have hit there sometime after.
Sandy: Yeah. Well, my music director- I hire the musicians and Adrian comes in and he puts them in sets so that you have seven different musicians in a set and a different leader for each set. Now, Adrian is also Australian so we have a lot of fun listening to the Australian accent on our stage.
Gina: That's so interesting. We need to find out about what's going on with this Australian jazz phenomenon. So Nikki is playing on Thursday night?
Gina: And then Cynthia?
Sandy: Is playing Friday and Saturday and so is Debbie. They are also going to be the two that are going to GLOW to the girls high school on Friday afternoon along with Ed Pulsers. They are going to be talking about jazz and the women in jazz which will be, I think, a very good thing for GLOW to see two women who have really made it big in their field.
Gina: So can you tell me some pieces that any of these or all of these three women would perform that you really like?
Sandy: I've no idea what they're going to perform.
Gina: Would you say that any of them have a specific style? Would use any particular adjectives to describe any of them specifically?
Sandy: Hmm. Well, swingin'. They each have their own style. Especially because they are vocalists besides being instrumentalist. They are vocal stylists.
Gina: So for someone who has never been to the jazz festival what could they expect? They go and they're going to hear different groups of musicians?
Sandy: They're different. They're different. Thursday night is when we show our different styles of jazz and that's a big deal as far as promoting jazz to a new audience. Usually when people ask me which night they should go to I say, if they haven't been before, go Thursday night because that gives you a broader sense of what jazz is all about. We're going to open with a local group called Mangroove and they're going to do a tribute to Horace Silver. This is a completely different style of jazz than Nikki Perat's trio is going to do. They will do more standards- jazz standards- mainly because of the vocal part of it is very important in that one. Then we will have probably 20 minutes of piano solo by Rossano Sportiello. Oh I do like to say that name. But Rossano is an absolutely fantastic musician. He's classically trained and then discovered jazz and just jumped right in and has been living in the US maybe five or six years now.
So most of these who are international who have been born in another country, they're all international players, but those who have were born and grew up in another country, once they decide they want jazz they move here where jazz is. The type of music that they can get ahead in. And so which makes it great for us because we don't have to pay airfare from Australia. But they're all living here. So Rossano lives in New York now and he will be here, as I say, he will play straight piano jazz. Then we'll close the evening with Adrian Cunningham leading some of our jazz all stars in a traditional jazz jam. So that is from 7:30 to 10:30.
Now, Friday and Saturday nights are completely different. They are made up of seven different sets. Each set has usually six musicians in it. Each set will have a different leader. So every single musician will get a chance to be a leader. You never see music stands- or very seldom do you see music stands on our stage. They all know it. They know what they're going to do and the leader will give them a signal or say a tune that he's going to want them to play. And boy do they play it.
Gina: And there's improvisation involved.
Sandy: Oh yes.
Gina: So having a music stand, having lines of music in front of you would be like a prison bar.
Sandy: Yeah. The thing is, with jazz it is a conversation- it's a musical conversation. These musicians are playing their instruments and the instruments are conversing with each other. So it's really interesting and of course the personalities of the musicians come out in that too. So it's a lot of fun.
Gina: What is your favorite instrument?
Sandy: That is tough because at one time I would have said piano because I love George Shearing's piano. And at the same time I love Stan Kenton's piano which was certainly different than Shearings. Saxophone. I love the flute. Especially a jazz flute. You don't get too much of that.
Gina: And where is the Jazz Festival being held?
Sandy: Wilmington Hilton Riverside.
Gina: Can people get tickets for individual evenings?
Sandy: I am happy to say Thursday night is sold out.
Gina: But Friday and Saturday are not sold out yet?
Sandy: No, not yet. Not yet.
Gina: And you can get an individual ticket for Friday or an individual ticket for Saturday?
Sandy: Yes. Friday nights and Saturday nights the price range is different. It's the same for both nights. The student price is $15 a night. The active military is $25 and for general admission it's $60.
We do have something else that we call a patronship where the patrons pay just a little more. They are sort of our backbone that gives us money to dare to go ahead the next year and in exchange we give them a brunch on Saturday morning. And at the patron brunch, if the patron happens to be a musician in his real life, he is invited to play with the musician with the All Stars.
Gina: Is it too late to become a patron?
Sandy: No. The patron tickets are for Thursday and Friday and Saturday- the three nights, which it would be very hard to get into that now. That's $225. For two night- Friday and Saturday patronship plus the brunch is $200.
Gina: How does the North Carolina Jazz Festival support itself? How is it possible to have this festival?
Sandy: Well, we have had people leave us money in their will but mainly it's selling tickets, selling ads in our program, getting sponsors. We usually have sponsors that have come back year after year and sponsorships run from a thousand to whatever they would like to give us.
Gina: So it works itself out because of the support of people who care about jazz?
Sandy: Absolutely. Absolutely. Our festival has a board of 10 and we're all volunteers and we do it all. So we do have volunteers who come in on the nights of the festival and sell tickets or usher, that type of thing. Our board of 12 or 10 are the ones that do all the work all year long to put it all together. So it's a group that's very dedicated.
Gina: I keep almost saying the “Jazz Society” because there is a Jazz Society.
Sandy: There is- the Cape Fear Jazz Society.
Gina: But that is totally different.
Sandy: It is. I was president of that. The second four years. I was the second president and that's when it really grew. We used to bring in big names and they had jazz night. That was back in the day. But then when I retired from that, I stayed on the board but then I came on this board. After I was on it for two years Harry van Belser, who started it, announced one Saturday night, "This is it. Sandy is going to be president from now on."
But the thing is we help each other. The Jazz Society helps promote the Jazz Festival, the Jazz Festival helps promote what the Jazz Society is doing. So we do help each other.
Gina: How do folks like the jazz that we play in the evenings here on WHQR?
Sandy: I think they like it a lot. You know George Scheibner is very knowledgeable in jazz and the musicians and so his asides as he's playing I listen to.
Gina: Sandy, is there anything else that you want to say that I haven't asked you about?
Sandy: Well, support the North Carolina Jazz Festival but also support live jazz in your community. That's one thing that is so important and we happen to live in a community that has many excellent jazz musicians. So when you're not at the festival the rest of the year, support your local jazz musicians.
Transcription Assistance from Production Assistant, Lindsay Wright