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06 Jul 2020

Music by the Masters: After a One-Year Hiatus, Idyllwild Arts' Jazz in the Pines Is Back—With an Expanded, Mostly Online Format

Written by  Jimmy Boegle and Stuart Cohn
Marshall Hawkins and Harry Pickens. Marshall Hawkins and Harry Pickens.

True connoisseurs of great jazz know where to seek it out. They’ll haunt late night bars (at least when bars are a thing) and flip through bins of vinyl at ever-diminishing record stores. They create playlists on Spotify; Alexa already knows what they want to hear without having to be asked.

Through July 17, Idyllwild will be the place where some of the most vaunted names in jazz, blues and R&B come together (virtually, at least) for the 26th edition of Jazz in the Pines, a popular annual fundraiser for the Idyllwild Arts Academy.

This year, jazz-lovers don’t need to drive up the mountain to enjoy all the festival has to offer. In deference to the wicked Mr. COVID, the organizers have reimagined a hybrid event, with mostly virtual experiences to be enjoyed, along with a handful of outdoors, socially distanced, in-person events at Idyllwild restaurants. Through July 17, a lineup of live and recorded performances and workshops will be available for streaming at www.jazzinthepines.com.

This year’s festival is curated by New York Times-featured jazz vocalist Rose Colella, who has performed at the festival for many years. The online festival will be free and open to all; highlights include an “In Conversation” series with various artists, masterclasses, and special events with jazz luminaries including Tonight Show trumpeter Kye Palmer, Marshall Hawkins, Barb Catlin, Tom Hynes, Francisco Torres, Bob Boss, Evan Christopher, Rick Shaw and Rose Colella.

Pamela Jordan, the president of Idyllwild Arts, said Jazz Fest fans were initially skeptical about the largely online format.

“We’ve done so much online; people are ready to get out and about, and it’s the summertime,” Jordan said. “But then when they started seeing the caliber of performers and the different opportunities, we started seeing people get very excited about it. … People are excited to know that they can see Grammy Award-winning John Daversa not only give a masterclass, but also perform. This is very exciting for people to see Harry Pickens, who played for the Dalai Lama, or be in conversation with Marshall Hawkins, who toured for years with Miles Davis.”

This year’s reimagined Jazz in the Pines follows a one-year hiatus. It coincides with the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program Jazz Workshop—taking place online this year—during which up to 70 students, from ages 14 to 18, get to learn from some of the greats of contemporary jazz. This format restores the original vision of festival co-founder Marshall Hawkins by enabling Idyllwild Arts to build a bridge between the professionals and the next generation of jazz artists, Jordan said.

“We took a hiatus from Jazz in the Pines last year, and it allowed us to really think about the purpose of Jazz in the Pines, and what we came to was the need to return to our original mission, which is to connect these professional jazz artists with these up-and-coming young jazz enthusiasts,” Jordan said. “That’s what being online, being virtual, is allowing us to do. In some ways, we’re reaching kids and professionals and audiences far more broadly than we could have if we were bringing everybody to Idyllwild—which is ideal, but we’re glad to be able to engage audiences this way.

“One of the main things that changed is that instead of a 2 1/2-day festival, which it’s been in the past, the intention was for it to be a two-week jazz intensive with the festival. The festival was going to be going on the entire time that our jazz students were taking their session on campus. … So the same thing is happening in that regard.”

While all performances are free, the event is a fundraiser, and donations will directly support Idyllwild Arts’ mission: to engage professional artists and educators, offer unique educational programs, and provide scholarships for talented young artists to attend Idyllwild Arts’ high school and summer program. Jordan said the school—like virtually all educational facilities—had to scramble to switch to an all-online format in March. However, she’s hoping the students will be able to return to Idyllwild in the fall—but all of the extra safety measures will cost Idyllwild Arts money.

“Like all schools, we have many scenarios if something were to come and prevent us from doing that, but it is our intention to return,” Jordan said. “Idyllwild Arts is unique because we are located in Idyllwild, 6,000 feet in the San Jacinto Mountains. We believe firmly that if we can get our students to Idyllwild, we can keep them safe. … We’re making all kinds of contingency plans, like all schools are, but being a boarding school puts us in a slightly different category, and we’re doing everything we can to keep this campus safe for our students’ return.”

For a complete schedule of Jazz in the Pines events and more information, visit www.jazzinthepines.com.

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