Stephanie Trick’s musical journey started with hearing a pianist in a hotel. For Dave Bennett, it began when his grandfather thought he might enjoy the clarinet.
In Elkhart, what has become a regional musical showcase had its debut 25 years ago.
The common denominator? Jazz.
The Elkhart Jazz Festival kicks off a three-and-a-half day run tonight with a free concert at The Lerner Theatre, 410 S. Main St. The Dave Bennett Quartet and the Elkhart Municipal Band will perform at 7 p.m., with doors opening at 6:30. Tickets will not be issued for the show, and seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis.
Festival chairman Tim Shelly said attendees can anticipate great restaurants, food tents and more than 100 hours of live music.
Dave Bennett will be just one of the artists providing the latter.
‘It’s pretty amazing’
Bennett will return to the Elkhart Jazz Festival as a just-turned-28-year-old. In a phone interview with The News this week, he recalled being 10 and eligible to join the school band.
“My grandpa just suggested I might have fun with the clarinet — just kind of on a whim, just thinking it might give me a hobby,” he said.
Bennett’s grandfather bought him a clarinet from a pawn shop, then got him a tape of Benny Goodman. Bennett fell in love with it.
“It just kind of snowballed from there,” he said.
Up to that point, Bennett had enjoyed watching old movies, and figures he had a love of what he calls “the older styles.”
“What I heard in Benny’s music was exponentially more exciting, and being able to hear what this instrument could sound like,” he added. “It’s pretty amazing.”
The jazz tradition that caught Bennett’s ear early on lives on at the Elkhart festival, where Bennett has performed for around 10 years.
“By now I pretty much know everyone, even in the audience,” he said. “So it’s a very comfortable atmosphere. In some ways it’s almost like going to a family reunion. You see people you know, and they’re always looking forward to seeing you, and vice versa.”
If the Jazz Festival is a family, the brood is growing. And as with all families, it includes a range of age and interests.
Organizers estimate the first festival drew around 3,000 jazz fans. This year, festival promoters are hopeful of more than 25,000 attendees.
Shelly said the 2012 event will feature about twice as many artists as the 1988 festival. Those musicians represent a blend of old and new, he indicated. Younger artists he listed in this year’s line-up include Bennett, Davina and the Vagabonds and Alfonso Ponticelli.
“That’s one area we’ve really tried to expand the last couple of years — to be able to reach down to the younger set of potential Jazz Festival attendees,” Shelly said, adding that the event will include some traditional favorites, too.
“Eddie Metz, who plays a great drum,” he said. “Bucky Pizzarelli, who plays classic jazz guitar. ...You’ve got the Four Freshmen, who’ve been around forever, who are big headliners for us. I would say they’re driving ticket sales for us right now.”
Shelly also listed Tim Cunningham as a younger “long-timer.” The saxophonist has been a hit with festival attendees in the past, and he’s returning to the jazz showcase this year.
“He’s a well-recognized name,” Shelly said of Cunningham. “I think he spans all types of age groups.”
Today through Sunday, jazz fans of all ages will make their way to downtown Elkhart to hear the music they love. They’ll enjoy a festival that is largely volunteer-driven.
“I can’t say enough about my volunteers,” Shelly said. “We’ve got more than 200 who help put this thing together. I’ve got people who dedicate hours throughout the year. I’ve got people who take vacation days from their regular, real jobs to get this thing off the ground and make it a successful festival. This event would not happen without those people.”
Nor would there be a music festival without people like Stephanie Trick.
Hitting her ‘stride’
Trick started taking piano lessons at age 5. She recalled being with her family at a hotel where a pianist was playing background music.
“I kind of was transfixed by her and I just watched her hands on the keys,” Trick said. Her grandmother asked the pianist if she gave lessons. She did, and Trick studied with her for the next 13 years.
Trick continued her musical training in college, and now music is her career. More specifically, she’s made a professional name for herself playing what’s called stride piano.
“That was a popular style of piano playing in the 1920s and ’30s in Harlem, New York,” according to Trick, with Fats Waller and James P. Johnson among the key players. She said the main characteristic of stride playing is that the pianist’s left hand jumps between a bass note and a chord in the middle.
“It creates this very full, orchestral sound and gives you the impression there’s a whole band playing with a rhythm section instead of just a pianist,” Trick said.
Art Tatum, Count Basie, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell all started by playing stride, she said, adding it was sort of their rite of passage to prove they could play stride as well as anyone else. “Then they developed their own styles,” according to Trick.
Stride has been Trick’s focus for the last few years, but she’s also been exploring boogie-woogie and swing styles.
“I really like any of the classic styles of jazz,” Trick said. She’s also a fan of the Elkhart Jazz Festival, which she attended last year.
“The audiences were great,” she said. “And it’s neat to have some really intimate venues like the Knights of Columbus and then go into Lerner Theatre and have an enormous hall. It’s nice to have the variety, because as an attendee you can decide where you want to see your performer.”
If you want to go
What: Elkhart Jazz Festival
When: Tonight through Sunday
Where: Downtown Elkhart venues including the Civic Plaza, Lerner Theatre, 227 South Main, New Life Community Church and Knights of Columbus
Who: Musicians set to perform at this year’s festival include Alejo Poveda’s Latin Quintet, Alfonso Ponticelli & Swing Gitan, Blue Sky 5, Bobby Lewis Jazz Quintet, Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Laub, Buffalo Ridge Band, Dave Bennett Quartet, Davina and the Vagabonds, Eddie Metz Trio, Elkhart Municipal Band, The Four Freshmen, Gull Lake Jazz Orchestra, Jazz Assemblage, Jenna Mammina, Joan Collasso Quartet, Kris Brownlee, Rebecca Kilgore Quartet, Stephanie Trick Trio, Truth in Jazz, Tim Cunningham, VibeNation, Wally’s Warehouse Waifs, Whistle Pigs, and 25th Anniversary Jazz Band
More information: For tickets, performance schedules and other information, visit the website www.elkhartjazzfestival.com