One of the reasons popular pianist/vocalist and Grammy nominee Judy Roberts likes to come to Payson is that she knows she'll have an audience that's both attentive and appreciative.
That's a rare treat for artists who usually perform in nightclubs, according to Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune:
"Roberts has been a mainstay of Chicago jazz for more decades than she probably cares to remember, but her uncounted engagements in hotel bars and noisy saloons have tended to obscure the melodic beauty and tonal sheen of her best work. Playing in a room where audiences actually listen, Roberts (turns) in warmly disarming vocals and slyly understated jazz pianism."
When fellow jazz artist Neal Seroka (who will accompany Roberts on bass) played Payson, he was impressed, according to local drummer and event organizer Gerry Reynolds (who will complete Roberts' trio). "Neal came up here and enjoyed it because people come and sit and listen," he said. "They're so used to people just coming and talking. (Neal) said, ‘I think Judy would like to come up here.'"
Judy not only came (last year), but she's coming back at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 19 to headline the first ever Jazz Week in Payson.
"She does ‘Route 66,' she does Gershwin, she's just all over," Reynolds said. "She turns the audience upside down."
The Tribune echoes Reynolds' praise, calling Roberts a first-rate jazz singer -- "blessed with an irrepressible musical imagination as well as the technique to give it life."
Roberts will perform at Community Presbyterian Church, 800 W. Main Street.
Jazz Week in Payson opened at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 14, with a concert by pianist Les Czimber.
A native of Hungary, Czimber was singer Al Jarreau's pianist for eight years. He later formed a seven-piece show group that performed in Reno and Lake Tahoe.
The third major event of Jazz Week in Payson is a performance at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 17, by noted local musician Paul Penning. The St. Patrick's Day event will be held at Mad Dawg's & Mel's Restaurant, 202 W. Main Street.
"He's wonderful -- a ‘folksy' kind of player on his Clavinova," Reynolds said.
Jazz Week in Payson concludes with a performance by the Payson Jazz Trio from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, March 20 at Mad Dawg's & Mel's. Reynolds, who will play drums at all three concerts, is a member of that group along with pianist Bob Smolenski and bassist Mike Buskirk.
Reynolds said Jazz Week in Payson grew out of a fortuitous confluence of the three performers all being available the same week.
"It just happened this way," he said. "Last year Judy Roberts was here the same week. She's doing the Kerr Cultural Center Wednesday and Thursday, she's here Friday, and then she's doing Sedona Saturday."
Reynolds is also president of Jazz in AZ, Inc., a nonprofit organization that stages a variety of concerts and events at Kerr Cultural Center, Scottsdale Center for the Arts, and other venues.
When he retired to Payson three years ago, he brought his passion for jazz with him. Eventually he linked up with other jazz fans and began staging monthly concerts at Community Presbyterian Church.
He admits that the musicians he brings to the Rim country have little choice but to let him sit in on drums.
"I sort of manufactured that," he said with a laugh. "You know, you create a venue and they will come, and if you're the drummer they gotta get along with you."
Fortunately for all concerned, Reynolds can hold his own with anyone. In addition to his Sunday afternoon performances, he plays every Thursday night at the Pita Jungle Restaurant in Chandler (for those who want to see him, take Highway 87 to 202 to 101, go south on Ray Road for one block and you're there).
You can also catch him with the Payson Jazz Trio on Friday and Saturday nights at Mad Dawg's & Mel's.
"We play from 6 to 9 p.m. -- early stuff, because people are early in Payson," he said. "And that's all right with me."
All the Jazz Week in Payson events are free, but donations to help pay the musicians a modest stipend are welcome.
"The church is so nice; they don't charge us," Reynolds said. "We just have a fishbowl at the door, and that goes to the musicians."
Reynolds also asks that those planning to attend Roberts' concert call him at (928) 468-1381 to reserve their seats.
"People just need to let me know they're coming so I can get a head count," he said.
Jazz Week in Payson
Wednesday, March 17, 6 p.m. (St. Patrick's Day)
Paul Penning and his Clavinova
Mad Dawg's & Mel's Restaurant
Friday, March 19, 6 p.m.
Pianist/vocalist Judy Roberts
Community Presbyterian Church
Saturday, March 20, 6 p.m.
Payson Jazz Trio
Mad Dawg's & Mel's Restaurant