Return of the Jazz Fest – ABC Celebrates Increased Impact

You may remember the first Jazz Festival, taking place October 5, 2019 at the Aronoff Center. Over 250 Cincinnati students, grades 4-12, gathered to participate in workshops, masterclasses, and a culminating performance on the mainstage of the Aronoff Center. The evening featured performances from student grounds and an ensemble of professional musicians, including award-winning Chilean saxophonist Melissa Aldana, Todor Bakardzhiev (Bulgaria), pianist Shamie Royston (New York City), bassist Chris Berg (Dayton, Ohio), and drummer Art Gore (Cincinnati). Over 600 members of the community attended this evening performance. The event was so successful that Activities Beyond the Classroom (ABC) decided to make the event the first of many; the Jazz Festival would be an annual celebration.

A year later, we wrung our hands in anxiety as COVID-19 tore through the city. No international artists would be flying in; no students would get hands-on coaching with their instruments; no unmasked performances would be taking place. We knew our students questioned what the future looked like for Jazz Festival and for their own music instruction. We made ourselves busy connecting students with resources and virtual music instruction, all the while biding our time.

That is, until we got the fateful call: the International Jazz Festival was back. “We were given an unexpected call by the Cincinnati Arts Association sometime in March,” explained Director of Advancement Carmen Lawrence-Bille. “They said they had a date open at the Aronoff and did we want to bring back the Jazz Festival? We took a deep breath, knowing we had only a very short time to pull it all together, and we said yes.”

The International Jazz Festival returned May 7, 2022. Internationally famous jazz saxophonist Joan Chamorro from Barcelona Spain joined 107 students and 11 regional jazz musicians for a full day of workshops, masterclasses, and performance opportunities, followed by an evening performance on the main stage at the Aronoff Center. This year, because we knew cost of tickets was a barrier to access for families at the previous Jazz Festival, ABC waived ticket fees and allowed all members of the public free access to the show. By the time the instruments started playing, 1200 seats were full in the Aronoff Center (about double the attendance from the first Jazz Festival).

The second Jazz Festival increased impact on the Cincinnati community by 153%. “It was outstanding to look out from the stage and see almost the entire orchestra section of the house filled,” Sally Grimes commented. “To know that all of these families and individuals were here to celebrate Jazz and these students… to know that perhaps they’d all wanted to come last time but couldn’t because there was a ticket price, was amazing. We’ve learned from that. The Jazz Festival will remain free and accessible in future years, so that anyone who wants to learn about and appreciate jazz will be able to.”

Jazz Festival 2023

We are pleased to announce that the third annual Jazz Festival will take place May 6, 2023 at the Aronoff Center. “We’re incredibly excited for this event and are planning for it to be bigger and more impactful than ever,” shared Carmen Lawrence-Bille.

In the meantime, Jazz lovers and our student musicians will have plenty to keep them busy.

In September, members of the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) Jazz Academy will visit Barcelona with Fine Arts Curriculum Manager Dr. Isi Rudnick and ABC Executive Director Sally Grimes to join this year’s international artist, Joan Chamorro, at his own city’s jazz festival, the Jazzing International Jazz Festival. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for these students,” Dr. Rudnick excitedly shared, “and it would not have happened for these students without the International Jazz Festival or ABC’s help.”

Furthermore, in November, our CPS Jazz Academy will host a Jazz Cabaret Fundraiser at Kennedy Heights Arts Center to support the Jazz Academy and all the inspiring work these students do. Marlin McKay, Cincinnati-area Trumpetist and professor at Georgetown college, applauds the program, saying, ““What Dr. Rudnick has accomplished by founding and growing the CPS Jazz Academy is astounding. This program is a national model of school and community jazz education. Every aspect of providing high quality jazz education to students has been carefully constructed by Dr. Rudnick. We are in the early planning stages of starting something similar in Lexington, Kentucky and we will model it on the Jazz Academy in Cincinnati. This is the most inclusive and dynamic jazz education program for school age students I have seen.”

If you would like to support the Jazz Academy or the third annual Jazz Festival, please consider making a donation or contacting us for more information!