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Monday, June 28, 2010

Jazzed Up in Easton

Jazzed Up in Easton:
1st Annual Jazz Fest Sizzles
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Easton, CT – The day was hot but the jazz was cool as Easton launched its 1st Annual Jazz Festival on Sunday, June 27th at the Easton Gazebo in front of the Community Center on Sport Hill Road.

Temperatures were in the 90s and humidity was high when the first musicians laid down their notes at 2pm from beneath the somewhat forgiving cone-shaped rooftop of the gazebo. The tinkle of piano keys and low vibrato of the bass traveled through the still air to the ears of the few folks that had thus far arrived and set themselves up on a steep hillside or under an awning with chairs. Even in the shade, the heat curled around defenseless bodies and created discomfort.

Phillip Lauterborn, 10, one of the more junior members of the audience, sought relief with ice cold lemonade and cooler-chilled water bottles a concession truck. “I’m so hot!” he complained to his dad, Michael, 45, who fanned him with a folded newspaper. The pair was from Fairfield and had read about the event in their local paper. Given that it was a first annual, they wanted to show their support and help give the Fest a good start. “I love jazz,” said the senior Lauterborn, “and Easton is so close.”

The Lauterborns were not the only ones from Fairfield. Hali from Hali’s Cakes, one of nine vendors onsite, also hailed from the adjacent town. A sophomore at Fairfield Warde High School, the budding entrepreneur displayed not only creatively designed cakes but also cookies and cupcakes. “She started making them for friends,” said her father Mark, who was on hand with his daughter and her siblings, “and other people started asking if she could make cakes for them.” A portfolio on the table showed many examples of her fine work.

Down the row, the operator of The Old Fashioned Soda Saloon was chatting with the local fire marshal and adjusting taps on nine kegs built into a compartment in the side of his truck. It was a clever-looking display with two Daisy rifles and two yellow horseshoes integrated. On the top of the truck, a cattle skull with red-glowing eyes sat atop a neon sign identifying the business, with two small American flags flying from either corner of it. Sodas had names like Cherry Cola, Lemon Twist and Grape. Lemonade and Ice Tea was also available.

More folks wandered onto the festival grounds, seeking what little shade there was, as a second group – young musicians from The Jazz Guild of Fairfield County -- began to play from a long mobile stage that had been towed to the site. Sets were brief – some only one-song long or fifteen to 20 minutes at best, most likely to accommodate within the 6-hour event window the 70 or more “world class” musicians that had been scheduled to play. The lineup was indeed a great one as emcees Phil C. Bowler, host of WPKN’s “Jazz Adventures” and Gene Leone Sr., host of the “Friday Open Jazz Jam” at Two Boots in Bridgeport and a Jazz Fest committee member, explained. Besides the young performers from the Jazz Guild, which was founded by Leone’s son Gene Jr., the line-up included: Newport Jazz Fest talents Michael Jovovich and Tuffus Zimbabwe, Dr. Joe Utterback, the Harold Zinno Quintet, Jake Epstein Quartet, the Bassix Trio, Joe Kiernan Quartet (local group with a regular gig at Bridgeport’s Ash Creek Saloon), Greg Packham Trio, Peter Valera Quartet, Nicole Zuraitis Group, Andrew Schoenfeld Quartet, Wayne Hiller Octet, Chris Conte Trio and Chris Coogan Group.

The aforementioned Two Boots was also a vendor here, though pizza was a hard snack for most folks to think about on this sweltering day. Other vendors rounding the field included Huntington Street Café, Jules Mediterranean of Monroe, Massage Works of Bridgeport, Tastefully Simple of Milford, Rolling Cones Ice Cream of Norwalk, Mike Valentine Caricatures and Old Fashioned Kettle Popcorn of Milford. The latter enjoyed steady traffic purveying bags of the fluffy stuff that could be enjoyed in the shade.

While admission to the Fest was free, donations were suggested and additional funds were being raised through the sale of Jazz Fest t-shirts. A young woman at one point happily skipped through the crowd to the beat of the music calling out “T-shirts! T-shirts!”, stopping occasionally to mop her brow.

“Phew! It’s hot!” a trio of jazz enthusiasts, munching on paninis declared, their chairs pressed into bushes behind them in a desperate measure to gain shade. “But the jazz is sure cool!”

An apt sentiment and theme for the afternoon.