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Sun Valley Jazz Festival Turns Sun Valley Village into a Mini French Quarter
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Sunday, October 22, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Care for a little banjo with your cornflakes? Perhaps, topped with a Clarinet Clambake?

They’re serving up a healthy dose of jazz, Cajun zydeco and country western swing at the 34th annual Sun Valley Jazz & Music Festival going on this week at Sun Valley Resort.

Sun Valley Road? It’s now Bourbon Street. The Boiler Room? Satchmo’s Lounge. And Sun Valley Village has turned into a slice of New Orleans’ French Quarter, what with saxophones wailing from five venues.

There have been no Elvis sightings. But Ol’Blues Eyes Frank Sinatra has been present—at least, in memory as jazz singers croon “Fly Me to the Moon.” And you should hear Western Hall of Fame inductee Carolyn Martin and Emily Stanton of the High Street Party Band belt out Patsy Cline numbers.

“I have to keep reminding myself what day it is because here time fades away—it’s so beautiful here,” said Carolyn Martin, whose swing band from Nashville, Tenn., has a Western Swing Album of the Year to its name. There’s just a wonderful little bubble here where your worries melt away and everything is about the music.”

Indeed, the chaos in Congress and turmoil in the Middle East seem far removed in Sun Valley Village where festivalgoers are happily taking time between sets to gorge on the golden aspen framing the village clocktower and the Sun Valley Opera House.

Hot dog lunches served from a park cart outside have become an excuse to relax on lawn chairs bordering the duck pond. And dozens more have taken to walking the bike path in the hours before the music begins at 9:30 in the morning.

The Sun Valley Jazz and Music Festival was shuttered for two years during the pandemic. But it re-emerged in the fall of 2022 and is rebuilding as more people become confident about taking part in festivals, said Co-Director Carol Loehr.

This year’s festival features 134 shows over five days with 20 bands playing at five venues. That’s down from when the festival featured twice as many venues. But the silver lining is that all the venues take place in Sun Valley Village so festivalgoers don’t have to catch a bus to Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge or River Run or Warm Springs lodges.

The festival has brought people from all 50 states attired in zoot suits, black fedoras, French gypsy berets, flapper hats and sequin dresses,

Many take advantage of dance lessons in the corner pockets, teaching them how to wave their knees through the Charleston and perform twirling maneuvers that resemble the Octopus ride in an amusement park.

And today you can be sure dozens will be twirling and dancing around the Limelight and Continental rooms in the Sun Valley inn, pumping parasols provided from the stage as they repeat the umbrella dance. The dance, patterned after funeral processions in New Orleans where ladies carry umbrellas to protect themselves them from the sun as they walk behind the jazz bands following caskets. And they’re particularly popular here during renditions of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

“This is going to be a very special week,” said Portland, Ore., vocalist Shaymus Hanlin, who didn’t even have peach fuzz on his upper lip when he made his debut with the big bands at the Sun Valley Jazz and Music Festival in 2019. “Be present and in the music moment.”

Festival founder Tom Hazzard would have turned 100 this year, noted his daughter Carol Loehr. And he would be pleased to know that the festival he started with Sun Valley’s former general manager Wally Huffman is still propagating the live music of America’s original musical art form.

“How could we not bring it back after the pandemic?!” said Loehr. “Sun Valley is just so magical. Last year everyone was talking about being in this big bubble—people were just so happy to be back.”

The staying power of the Sun Valley Jazz and Music Festival is no small matter when you consider many jazz festivals did not survive the pandemic. And the Sacramento Jazz Festival, which used to get 85,000 people, went bankrupt in 2017.

“We volunteered at Sacramento Jazz Festival for years,” said one couple from California. “And we miss it dearly. We still follow jazz--our grandson went to jazz camp this year and we follow many of the band members that are here in Sun Valley. That’s why we wanted to come here. So,  here we are.”

Donna Beaux and Betty Grant, who have volunteered at the Sun Valley Jazz and Music Festival for 25 years, headed the list of dozens of volunteers wearing the familiar turquoise shirts with a trumpet player on their back.

“For me it’s all about the music,” said volunteer Craig Randle, who lives in Elkhorn. “Jazz music needs to be heard live and this is the way to do it.”

“Having lived in New Orleans, this is like a little slice of the French Quarter,” added Bonnie Hovencamp. “The music just makes you feel good.”

This year’s festival is attracting more attendees from the Sun Valley area, in addition to Boise and Twin Falls. And that makes Loehr happy.

“We love that because we care about the community,” she said.

Among the locals in attendance was Sylvia Hartman, who was attending her first festival despite having had a home in Sun Valley for years.

“I love it!” said Hartman, whose son plays accordion in a New Orleans band. “This is so wonderful—now I’m going to have to work on getting my son to bring his band here.”

The festival will conclude today—Sunday, Oct. 22—with three jazz styled gospel celebrations  beginning at 9 a.m. in the Limelight Ballroom. Other performers include Tom Rigney & Flambeau, the Carolyn Martin Swing Band, Hot Jazz Collective, Professor Cunningham & his old School and Tom Hook & The Hounds.

The Grande Finale will be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in the Limelight Ballroom.

To learn more, visit https://www.sunvalleyjazz.com.

DID YOU KNOW?

John Phillips Sousa’s marching band was as popular as the Eagles in its day, according to Dave Ruffner, of the Blue Street Jazz Band.

“He was a brilliant man who could sit at his kitchen table and rite marches,” added Ruffner who conducted Saturday’s Marching Band Salute which, he noted, is unique in the world of jazz festivals.

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