With planning beginning in January of each year, students, teachers, residents and community organizers get together to bring together jazz musicians from all around to celebrate the legacy of their hometown jazz hero, Dizzy Gillespie.
This year’s theme for the festival is “A Carolinas Tribute to Dizzy Gillespie” and musicians from North and South Carolina will be paying tribute to a man who helped define a musical movement.
Lindsay Bennett, executive director or the Cheraw Arts Commission, said the festival began when relatives and friends of Gillespie wanted to honor him and his legacy.
“It’s a great community project,” Bennett said. “It’s about music, art, family activities and reconnecting with Dizzy’s legacy.”
Gillespie was born in Cheraw in 1917 and was one of the founders of modern jazz, an innovative trumpeter known for his bent horn, bulging cheeks and sense of humor. He was famous around the world and almost always opened each performance by saying, “I’m Dizzy Gillespie from Chee-raw, South Carolina.”
“Dizzy never forgot Cheraw,” said Phil Powell, tourism and marketing director for the town of Cheraw. “He even came here late in life and when he performed he always let people know he was from here.”
Powell said the jazz festival is different than most town festivals because it’s more of a musical and cultural endeavor. The festival provides a boost to area businesses, especially hotels and restaurants, and Powell said it’s a great chance to provide quality entertainment to locals.
And for the last four years, the community has become more and more involved creating what is now a fusion of music and visual arts celebrating a jazz legend.
With more than 30 different concerts and 20 different acts, this year’s jazz festival has been a huge undertaking.
Beginning at 7:30 p.m. today the smooth sounds of jazz will fill the streets of Cheraw until that Sunday.
This year’s festival includes three headline performers, two from North Carolina, and one from South Carolina — the Noel Freidline Quintet, Robert Gardiner Jazz Quintet and Dave Finucane Quartet — who will perform Saturday evening on the main stage.
Also Saturday evening, 14 different jazz groups will perform in restaurants downtown for the Jazz Night Restaurant Crawl.
Bennett said this year’s restaurant crawl is much bigger and includes a greater variety of musicians with a mix of classic jazz, modern jazz and vocalists.
This year, Bennett said the planning committee has also expanded it’s activities for families, with an increased focus on the visual arts.
And not only will there be more for children to do during this year’s festival, students in Cheraw’s schools were a help in getting things ready for this year’s festival.
Bennett said a lot of the students created artwork to be displayed in area restaurants during the festival, and this year one group of students is creating a series of portraits of famous jazz celebrities. They’ve also helped to paint set pieces for this year’s events like the Bebop Bag-Toss and Dizzy Gillespie photo booth.
This year, if the weather holds out, the festival will have it’s first “Bebop” parade. It was scheduled for last year’s festival but got rained out. The parade kicks off the festival this evening at Dizzy Gillespie Park near the Dizzy Gillespie statue. The parade will include children riding their trikes, bikes and golf carts and the Fort Jackson 282nd Army Jazz Band will perform marching down the street through various neighborhoods into downtown.
The festival is also bringing back the Artisans of the South Carolina Cotton Trail who will host an exhibit of their work and have their jewelry, paintings, glass art and much more on sale for visitors.
The festival will also have its Italian Madonnari Chalk Competition again this year, which is street painting with chalk. Last year there were only five teams, but this year there are 13 signed up. Bennett said interest was generated in the community by teaching the technique to students in schools and workshops.
The Outdoor Jazz Mass will again be held on Sunday at 3 p.m., sponsored this year by the First United Methodist Church, which will include area choirs and musicians who will lead worship with “soulful jazz.”
New to the festival this year is a golf tournament whose proceeds will benefit the Cheraw Rotary’s Dizzy Gillespie Scholarship Foundation which benefits youth of Cheraw who plan to study music in college.
Also new this year, in addition to the regular Jazz Celebration at Dizzy Gillespie’s old church, is a “musical dialogue” with Appalachian State University jazz professor Todd Wright discussing the impact and contribution of Gillespie’s music.
“It takes a lot of planning and a lot of people coming together to make this happen,” Bennett aid. “It makes me proud because the community comes together and everyone wants to help. It’s a true reflection of the community working together.”
For a look at the full schedule of events, list of performers and ticket prices, visit www.scjazzfestival.com.