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The jazz festival in and around Warwick, in upstate New York, is once again picking up steam. Entering its ninth year, the event was founded by Steve Rubin (who’s also a drummer) as a community labor of love. The jazz flows throughout a variety of fun, local venues like libraries, cafes and even an alpaca farm.

Funded by attendee and community donations plus corporate sponsors, the 2018 HVJF stretches from its opening show on Thursday August 9, 2018 through the last performance beginning at 7 p.m. on Sunday, August 12.

Rubin explains what makes it hum, sizzle and swing.

How long has the Hudson Valley Jazz Festival been around?

The Jazz Festival began in 2010 and was the “Warwick Valley Jazz Festival” at the time. In 2012 we changed the name to “The Hudson Valley Jazz Festival.” The purpose of this was to widen the scope of participating towns and musicians.

Most significant changes from then to today?

We’ve expanded our goal from a local one-town series to more of a spread-out jazz festival. To date, Warwick, Sugar Loaf, Greenwood Lake, Beacon, Montgomery, Florida (NY), New Paltz, Peekskill, Westchester, Marlboro, Pine Island and Newburgh have all participated at one time or another. The mission became to include as many different jazz artists from the broader Hudson Valley region as possible, and to try to include new artists each year. While our ideal model has not been achieved, we continue to promote and work towards that as the goal. 

What genres within jazz do you showcase?

The Jazz Festival is open to all genres. If there’s an artist with a suggestion, we’d like to hear it.  We’ve had swing bands, electronic, fusion, bop, modern and gypsy jazz. We’ve also created collaborative cross-disciplinary events: jazz and dance, jazz improv with an artist painting, jazz with a slide show and jazz backing up spoken word poets.

Do you have a waiting list for artists?

Well it’s an interesting design. We don’t really “select” or have a panel making subject choices. It’s an organic process where there’s a combination of the preference of the sponsoring venue which selects an artist, or we recommend one or produce our own shows. There are several repeat artists to both sustain a tradition of local talent and to be responsive to the interests of the audience. All this is a fluctuating, very unofficial process.  See http://www.hudsonvalleyjazzfest.org/about/ .

How far out do you start planning each event?

The planning for August begins the November before! We look at what other events may be taking place to fit in with our proposed four days. In an area like this, it’s easy to have several music or other projects overlapping, which we feel is not ideal for turnout to any one of them.  We reach out to other organizations to see what their plans may be. So we stay flexible and adjust the days to accommodate or reflect what else is happening around town.

What is it about the location that makes it suitable for jazz?

The series is about “varied environment”… there’s something for everyone. The idea is to present shows in different settings to reach and be sensitive to preferences. Some folks like quiet concerts, others a bar or restaurant where they can have a meal; an art gallery, a park, a library and we’ve even had shows at a couple of organic farms. What makes the location suitable is their support of live jazz!

Why do you feel it’s important for the performers to live/have lived in the area?

There are two answers to this question. Promoting local, I believe, is a primary way to enhance our socialization. It supports business and creates a varied cosmopolitan feel even in a rural setting. Local promotion informs the public that not all life happens in one environment, city or country.  And it builds community while reminding us that our neighbors are also talented artists worthy of greater recognition.

Ideally, we’d love corporate sponsorships that not only achieve our mission but would also expand the festival to include artists from other areas: NJ, CT, NYC, Long Island and beyond.

Maybe a “Verizon or ChaseBank or Apple or Jazz at Lincoln Center” Presents The Hudson Valley Jazz Festival approach. For that matter, a local developer may want to attach his or her name to it, help establish a central stage, theater space, etc.

How have you improved the event over the years?

We’d like to think that we’ve achieved some of our goals. There have been more women and young musicians participating. The styles of jazz vary and we’ve been able to partner with other organizations. For example, The Warwick Summer Arts Program, The Warwick Valley Historical Society, Community 2000, The Warwick Valley Community Center and of course one our strongest supporters, The Village of Warwick Concert Series, have all participated by presenting a show as part of the series.

We’ve had great support that grows both from local businesses and individual patrons of the arts that enable us to present programming that catches the attention of the wider jazz world. To date we’ve had The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Dave Liebman, John Abercrombie, Arturo O’Farrill, Bill Evans (saxophonist), Adam Nussbaum, Lenny White, Buster Williams, Wallace Roney and Mark Egan, just to name a few. These shows are made possible by the support of organizations including Healthy Thymes Market in nearby Vernon, NJ and local arts supporter Kevin Kern of Sugar Loaf Farmer’s Market.

Does the town a scene of its own?

It does. Warwick is a mix of provincial, traditional country with a city-flavored hip that doesn’t tarnish its mainstream values and sensibilities.  There are many people here engaged in promoting the arts and there are businesses, farmer’s markets and organizations doing very generous work to enhance that vibe.

But a vibe is subject. Different folks will see it as they do. See this article: http://www.hvmag.com/Hudson-Valley-Magazine/Hudson-Valley-Resources/Best-of-Hudson-Valley/index.php/name/Warwick-Valley-Jazz-Festival/listing/23019/ 

How does it work out for there to be different venues?

It works out well. The idea is to schedule shows in such a way as to present variety, maximize turnout and not overload the process thereby hindering turnout. It’s that calculation which the festival works hard to achieve.

What is the reaction of your community to this event?

Very good. But to be honest, it’s hard for me to comment on how others perceive this particular series. As I mentioned, there are many interesting projects that are created locally. Given the place of jazz within the wider arts appreciation umbrella, I think it’s done better than expected.  

We’ve gotten positive feedback and support from our local media such as Straus News, Warwick Advertiser, The Times Herald Record, Warwick Dispatch and Chronogram Magazine.

What are some of the highlights each year?

That changes each season. Could be the “name artist,” a new venue location, or what I always hope for, the inclusion of new artists not as well-known to the general public.

It’s fantastic to have them in a show and the public being pleasantly surprised to realize that Lydia and Gabbie and Chloe are great vocalists; Joe, Neil, Bill and Dave are amazing piano players; John and Lew are just “that good on bass”; Chris and Rick play trumpet amazingly; and who knew that Bob and Eric played sax like that or that Bob was this great drummer “living up there” or Jeff, wow, what a guitarist… etc…  Many more worthy of mention!

Who’s in the 2018 lineup?

It’s still developing. This season will be the re-emphasis of the local scene with some surprise “name artists.”

Full schedule (updated regularly) at http://www.hudsonvalleyjazzfest.org/home/festival-schedule/ .

Anything different this year?

SPECIAL NOTE! The Hudson Valley Jazz Fest’s fundraiser show on Sunday May 6th will feature Eric Person, Freddie Jacobs, Robert Kopec, Lydia Pidlusky, Joe and Gabriele Tranchina, Dave Smith, Bob Rosen, Gabe Valle, Larry Newcomb, Bob Meyer, John Arbo, Steve Rubin, Khalif Bobatoon, Neil Alexander and others.

We’ll have new sponsors and venues to announce shortly and something else in the works…details to follow in the coming weeks. What’s always new is the “first time in The Hudson Valley Jazz Festival” musician or group.

How long have you been the director of HVJF?

Since the beginning. It’s sort of my community project, self-created. But there are many people who regularly contribute with time, ideas and services that have made this program possible, from videographers to writers, web designers donating their work, photographers, friends and of course the supporting public and presenting venues. Then there’s Bettina Skye, my wife, an actress and the head of an entertainment business called Skyelight Entertainment.  Her input is of great value.  

Hudson Valley Jazz Ensemble ( partial group shot)

HVJF founder Steve Rubin, far right

Are you also a musician?

I’m a drummer. I also participate in the festival. While challenging and time-consuming, I enjoy the opportunity in some small way to contribute; to help in whatever way this festival can to raise the profile of jazz music and the musicians who’ve spent years working to develop skills in this music they love.

I’m a true believer that raising the collective also brings up the individual disciplines; that promoting any one art modality brings focus to the arts in general.

Life is a jazz band, and it works best when we’re in tune with a kind of natural law: the focus on the group, the family unity of humanity. It’s fertile ground for each of us to develop and shine where our talents or skill sets will take us. When we think the one or “I” is more important than the ensemble, the ensemble collapses.  

What would you want people to know about the HV Jazz Festival that they probably are not aware of?

That we’re really interested in being as inclusive as possible. The series develops in a way that’s dependent upon who presents a show, their preferences, the timing, and with the shows we produce in total, the amount of funds available. We apply for grants, have fundraising projects and then there’s the main job… “knocking on doors.” That’s a large part of what I do.

No one including myself draws income from the festival. The money we raise is used in promotion and advertising, producing a show and enhancing the pay of participating musicians.  We’re proud of the fact that all musicians are guaranteed payment for their work. I wish it were more, and we’re always looking to grow that formula.

Lastly, we’d really like to have musicians, business people, arts folks and others be part of the organization. Bring new ideas, constructive criticism and vision to help us realize ours. The goals still on the table include:

– A jazz education program

– Student performances

– Yearly programming

– Expansion into other areas of the Hudson Valley and/or to join with other jazz organizations to grow interest in this American music (can you hear us Jazz at Lincoln Center? We would love to work with you!).

Other comments?

I very much appreciate your interest and support by doing this. It means a lot to me and unofficially, on behalf of the local jazz community.

For more information, visit www.hudsonvalleyjazzfest.org.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Steve Rubin/HVJF.
© Debbie Burke 2018

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