Concert Series Conceived, Continues For The Love Of Jazz

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Gerry Reynolds calls jazz America's only original art form. He also says it is endangered.

But he and a group of fellow Rim country residents are making a serious effort to make it flourish again.

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Grammy-nominated jazz pianist and vocalist Judy Roberts presented a special performance for the Payson Fans of Jazz March 28. Watching Sara DeWitt in the audience, Roberts told Gerry Reynolds, concert organizer and volunteer drummer, she instinctively knew the girl could play piano and invited her to do a number. DeWitt did a classical piece that blew everyone away and resulted in a standing ovation for the youngster.

Reynolds and a group of friends created the loosely organized Payson Fans of Jazz last June.

The group's 11th concert was Sunday, April 13, with Pam Morita, who was brought back by popular request.

At the end of March, the PFJazz had the opportunity for a special presentation, a concert by Grammy-nominated pianist and vocalist Judy Roberts. More than 200 area residents and visitors crowded into the Community Presbyterian Church's sanctuary, giving PFJazz its biggest audience yet.

"I moved up here three years ago and met some people who liked jazz music. About half a dozen of us were sitting around my kitchen table talking about there was nowhere to go to listen to jazz and nowhere to go to play," Reynolds said, recounting the birth of the group.

They decided to see how many people would be interested in attending a jazz performance.

Reynolds is a drummer who plays with jazz acts on a regular basis in the Valley, so has connections with people who would be willing to come to Payson and perform.

The group at his kitchen table put together a list of people they thought would be interested and came up with close to 100 names. Asking around, Cory Houghton of the Senior Circle offered up her facility, free of charge, for use as a concert site. With a site and mailing list, a concert was put together and invitations sent out.

"All of them responded. We had between 90 and 100 people at our first event. We asked if they were interested in keeping it going and everyone we spoke to said, ‘Yes, let's do it again.'"

There has been a concert every month since that first one in June, with an average of 125 people attending.

Eventually the concerts "migrated to the church," Reynolds said, "It has a nice room and a baby grand piano, and us being here is a way to let people know the church is there." He added the church also has more seating and better acoustics than the previous concert site.

Everything is volunteer. A group provides the refreshments, others set things up and take them down for the concerts, Chuck Proudfoot, minister for the Presbyterian Church, works the sound equipment, and his son, Scott helps out too.

Volunteers take care of the reservations. "It's really just a cookie count," Reynolds said of the reservations. Bing Brown, a lifetime member and founder of the Jazz in AZ group, which promotes jazz around the state, serves as the master of ceremonies

PFJazz is affiliated with the larger, state-wide organization in that Jazz in AZ lets the Rim group use its letterhead and postage permit to mail out its notices about the concerts. It is also a way to network with more jazz artists who might be interested in coming to Payson. Some members of the PFJazz group are members of Jazz in AZ, like Brown and Reynolds, who is currently vice president of the state group.

The Payson concerts are free, but donations are encouraged. Reynolds said oddly enough the money donated has always been enough to pay the artists the little they have agreed to accept for their performances.

"If we don't have enough donated, the rest comes out of my checkbook," Reynolds said.

And even though they only pay the artists around $100 or so, "We don't have any difficulty in getting people to come up on Sunday. They do it because they love to do it. It's not a business. They do it for the pleasure of playing."

The concerts are generally held the second Sunday of the month, though the Roberts concert was on a Friday because it was what would fit with her other appearances.

Another jazz artist, Neal Seroka, who lives in Fountain Hills and works with Roberts, helped make the arrangements to bring her to Payson.

A bass player, Seroka has been a featured solo performer in Payson before, and accompanied Roberts in her March show.

All the performers have the free services of drummer Reynolds.

The jazz of choice is traditional jazz, Reynolds said, explaining there are a number of jazz forms, among them: cool jazz which is featured on KYOT 95.5 FM; Dixieland jazz; and Latin jazz, which was actually introduced years ago by Dizzy Gillespie.

He said traditional jazz is taking the standards from the 50s and 60s and doing them in jazz style.

Reynolds had not decided on a May performance when interviewed by the Roundup for this article, but he said people have started asking to be booked for the Payson Fans of Jazz concerts.

The thing Reynolds is looking for now is a place to play, with room to dance, at least once a week that doesn't cost much, or better yet, doesn't cost anything, since PFJazz is not a money-making proposition.

He would also like anyone interested in being on the group's mailing list to get in touch with him. There are between 140 and 150 names on the list at present, he would like to see at least 200 names on it.

For more information, call Reynolds at 468-1381. To find out more about Jazz in AZ, write to 2708 N. 68th Street, Suite 2 #404, Scottsdale, AZ 85257-1209.

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