Arts Global

19 September 2011

West Orange Patch

9th Annual Swiss Global/Oskar Schindler Jazz Festival Draws Hundreds

Music, community spirit supply the warmth on one cool day and two chilly nights.

By Carol Selman


The 9th Annual Swiss Global/Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center (OSPAC) Jazz Festival hit this past Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and kept on hitting through to after 9 p.m. on Saturday. In a few words: large, enthusiastic crowds; cool temperatures; music both hot and very cool.

Friday night, well over 100 intrepid jazz fans were seated in the field facing the hilltop OSPAC amphitheater long before the start. Temperatures were falling to 50 degrees, but the crowd built and became more multigenerational as the “Bob DeVos-Oscar Perez West Orange All Stars” took the stage at 8:30 p.m. The Friday night home town players — all who play worldwide — DeVos, Perez, Virginia Mayhew, Ed Howard and Vince Ector were joined by musicians hailing from the township’s south and north as they delivered a fast paced hour and a half of originals and jazz standards.

That night and throughout Saturday, friends and neighbors greeted one another; strangers became friends. A woman in the first row introduced herself: "I’m 73 years old and hold three jobs," Roseland’s Marcia Steinberg of the all volunteer Jersey Jazz Society said, "It’s the music; it fills your soul."

Fans came from all over the tri-state area; media coverage of the festival reaches statewide and into New York City. For the 7th year, WBGO Jazz Radio FM 88.3's Gary Walker (from Bloomfield) hosted the event. Walker, the station’s musical director and their host of "Morning Music," lent his inimitable brand of energy, humor and expert knowledge.

"This is absolutely one of my favorite festivals," Walker said. "What you feel is the community, both of the audience and of the musicians. Three hundred and eighty art facilities have opened since 1995, and many are floundering. What you see here is the support of the audience for a particular event."

This year, OSPAC’s executive director, West Orange based vocalist Kate Baker who serves as jazz advisor on the board of the Swiss Global Foundation, also attained key financial support from that organization. Swiss Global’s own group of young musicians kicked off at 1 p.m. Saturday and were followed by leading musicians representing three generations of artists working in jazz’s mainstream.

Many of the Saturday musicians were returning veterans of the festival, including that day’s group of West Orange based players: Nat Adderly, Jr., Kate Baker, Ali Jackson, Vic Juris, and Dave Stryker. New to the festival this year was township resident Bill Charlap; late in the afternoon, a rapt audience enjoyed his often introspective solo piano performance based on the "Great American Songbook."

Charlap is a Steinway artist. He and all the many fine pianists especially appreciated the Steinway D grand piano delivered just for the festival.

Community was the overwhelming theme as kids formed spontaneous conga lines or rolled on the hillside near the stage. At the booths were great, cheap eats, and there were many arts related vendors on the sidelines, including a pet psychic for the few well behaved dogs in attendance. Neck massages by trained area therapists offered relief for parents who, perhaps, had joined their kids in a hillside roll but shouldn’t have.

"You go to Europe or Japan, and kids are a part of the festivals," Walker said. "In America, parents mostly leave the kids home with a babysitter, but OSPAC encourages families."

Returning, too, was the always popular "Paint the Music" with Nitza Horner which attracted participants barely out of their strollers to grandparents.

OSPAC is a strong magnet drawing people and focus to West Orange. Starting Friday night and continuing all day and evening on Saturday, professional and amateur jazz photographers with an array of telescopic lenses formed a phalanx of figures, crouching just below the stage.

The festival was especially meaningful this year, as damage from an early winter fire had prevented the center’s usual, eclectic summer performance schedule. Township support was strong both in getting the repairs done and helping out on Saturday.

Helping out was a vital theme, from the contributions of many of the locally based performers to the volunteers at the meet and greet table, accepting donations, distributing programs and selling OSPAC tee and sweat shirts. Backstage, volunteers manned the musician hospitality table.

Vital each year are OSPAC production manager and board vice president Ellen Quetzel of the township and Chris Drukker of Montclair. Drukker, a former leading art director, contributed his graphic design, works with sound and is stage manager. On Saturday, with eight acts requiring set up, Drukker got all the musicians out performing miraculously close to schedule.

If Saturday belonged to any one performer, it was 82-year-old National Endowment of the Art Jazz Master Sheila Jordan who brought the house down with a very hip set, interpolating into the lyrics improvisational material about her life in jazz.

English version Version française Deutsche Version