By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Blues, funk, zydeco, Dixieland, bebop, Latin and big band are all a part of the brassy, swinging sound filling up summer nights during the 30th annual Jazz in June.
Scheduled for June 20-22, the free festival began as a single concert in 1984 that drew a crowd of 300. Now this year’s Norman tradition is expected to attract 50,000 people.
Norman Hammon, Jazz in June director of development, said Jazz in June’s goal is to put on a festival that educates the public about jazz.
“We try to show people that all of this is jazz,” Hammon said. “It all has a relationship to that one root thing and jazz is uniquely American. It’s not something we borrowed from another country. It has a lot of influences from other countries, but it’s American and that’s really what we’re pushing.”
A total of 10 groups will be performing during the festival, representing a wide range of genres that all fall under the jazz umbrella. Jim Johnson, Jazz in June program chair, said there is something for every musical taste.
“It’s a tradition we try to keep alive. I think the sound is infectious and we love it and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and that’s great, as far as I’m concerned,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t seem to be any less influential than it ever has been.”
This year’s headliner is The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The band’s latest CD, “Twenty Dozen,” features seamless blending of genres like R&B, jazz and funk, plus Afro-Latino grooves, some Caribbean flavor and even a Rihanna cover.
Johnson said the group’s Norman performance gives audience members the opportunity to see a band that revolutionized the sound of traditional New Orleans jazz.
“They’re really a part of New Orleans jazz history,” Johnson said. “They’re a band that many people in New Orleans credit to taking the street parade, kind of the second line tradition, and crossing over and blending it with some of the other sounds that are certainly familiar in New Orleans — Dixieland jazz and second line but also funk.”
Guitar great Duke Robillard is scheduled to headline “Blues Under the Stars” on June 20 at Brookhaven Village. Called “one of the great (guitar) players” by BB King, Robillard has played alongside such other music legends as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Jimmy Witherspoon.
Robillard balances blues tradition with fresh creativity to create a truly unique listening experience, Johnson said.
Fareed Haque and MathGames! are bringing their innovative sound and style to headline “Jazz Under the Stars” at Brookhaven Village on June 21. Haque, a renowned jazz guitarist and instructor, combines his many influences and technology to craft a sound he calls “jazztronica,” with the help of his band.
“It’s going to be lively, it’s going to be different and I think the young crowd might really be perked up and freaked out,” Johnson said on the group. “I know a lot of people will be shocked I’m sure.”
Other artists slated to perform at this year’s festival include Parker Millsap, A Taste of Herb, Justin Echols Jazz Trio, The Paseo Street Walkers and the Norman High School Jazz Combo.
Karen Holp, Jazz in June board vice president, said all artists are paid for their work — something the board takes great pride in.
“We think that’s important, if we’re supporting the arts in that way we want the artists paid. We’re happy that we can do that but on the other hand you have to live within a budget, too,” Holp said. “That’s one of the things that I think has made Jazz in June, maybe in the music circles and among certain music agents, a place to be considered seriously when they’re thinking about where they’re going to go because they know that we do a good job. We do a good job in actually offering money to the artists.”
Hammon said Jazz in June organizers hope to double their budget in the near future as a way to both guarantee financial stability and continue to invite the best of talent.
Jazz in June was founded by the Norman Arts and Humanities Council and Cimarron Opera in 1984 to bring high-quality blues and jazz acts to Norman. Since then, the community’s enthusiasm has been the driving force behind Jazz in June’s growth, Hammon said. With any luck, that trend will continue.
“We’re planning on being here in another 30 years,” Hammon said. “We won’t be the same people but it’ll be the same Jazz in June. We have every intention of keeping this a free festival and every intention of it growing. We hope to be able to weather out the storms like we did the first 30.”
Doug Stiehler, Jazz in June treasurer, credits the festival’s success to the community. Norman has latched on to Jazz in June over the years and works hard to support the event with donations of time and money.
“This is like Norman’s gift to not only Norman, but the state,” Stiehler said.
For more information visit jazzinjune.org.