Hundreds turn out for annual Menasha jazz festival

MENASHA – While you may have grown up tapping your toes to the sounds of Miles, Monk or Desmond, hundreds along Menasha’s waterfront Jefferson Park, bent an ear Sunday afternoon to the sounds of McKay, Kubicki and Dixon.

In its 21st year, the Fox Jazz Fest marks the start of the end of the summer season.

While the dozen-or-so headliners may be unknown to the common listener – they all have one thing in common. A passion for America’s music.

“It’s a wonderful festival,” said festival artist, organist and pianist Dan Trudell.

Trudell, who is from the Upper Peninsula but now lives in Lake Geneva, says the two-day event pushed him to release an album he’d recorded long ago with fellow festival artist, drummer Matt Wilson.

For Trudell the Fox Jazz Fest is something special.

“I’ve played the Chicago Jazz Fest quite a bit when I lived there and I kind of prefer this one, honestly,” said Trudell.

Lucy Hopkins agrees.

“It’s pretty nice. It’s nice crowd, it’s nice weather, it’s nice scenery,” said Hopkins, in town from Chicago to visit family for the holiday weekend.

Hopkins says she frequents jazz festivals around the Chicago area. No matter where they are, it’s the music that is what draws her to them.

“I think it’s the blending of the instruments and the harmonies that come out,” she said.

Organizers say the free festival isn’t cheap to put on, costing roughly $50,000 – all coming from donations.

“The powers that be have taken really good care of us over the 21 years,” said John Harmon, the festival’s artistic director.

Harmon has also, coincidentally, been at the artist-booking helm since. He says the festival has grown considerably since its start and continues to be an outreach for the jazz genre, teaching kids and others the importance of this American music.

High school jazz bands and younger jazz musicians also have the opportunity to play and take part in jazz fest clinics, each year.

“It’s our own music and we’re trying to keep it alive and well,” Harmon said.

And it seems to be doing alright here in Menasha.

Harmon says some artists are already booked for next year.

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