Sunday's Pacific Coast Jazz Festival in Irvine shapes up as one of the biggest single-day jazz events held in Orange County in years, boasting a lineup of more than a dozen performing groups and nearly 70 musicians.
But with the Playboy Jazz Festival, the Queen Mary Jazz Festival, the Los Angeles Classic Jazz Festival and others already in existence, do Southern Californians really need another jazz festival?
Organizers and musicians involved with Sunday's eight-hour marathon admit that local jazz fans don't need a clone of festivals featuring the same veteran artists who always attend such events. Yet, they are enthusiastic about the new Pacific Coast Jazz Festival as an alternative to existing events.
For both artistic and budgetary reasons, festival organizer Fred Norsworthy built a program featuring traditional acoustic jazz and bringing together numerous excellent but lesser-known players from New York and Los Angeles.
"It's similar to Dixieland music and the Classic Jazz Festival (which opens today): The only way this kind of music will survive is through festivals like this," Norsworthy said.
The musicians also see the festival, which will begin at 2 p.m. at the Irvine Holiday Inn, as a welcome alternative to the emphasis elsewhere on popular rock-jazz hybrids.
"There are too many (jazz festivals) going and some are not really jazz," said pianist-arranger Claude Williamson, whose trio will perform Sunday. "They may be billed as jazz, but that term is so misunderstood and misinterpreted. The bigger festivals, I've noticed, are leaning more toward jazz rock or fusion, which in my opinion is not jazz. It is another idiom that is here. But this (Pacific Coast festival) is a straight-ahead jazz program."
Gerald Wilson, a veteran pianist, bandleader and arranger who has performed with Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Jimmy Lunceford, among others, praises festival organizers for showcasing emerging performers.
"At the other festivals, it's usually the status quo," Wilson said. "At this one, we have the young people doing their thing. These are going to be the people who sooner or later will come to the forefront. There's nothing wrong with the big familiar bands--they're great. But they tend to play the same thing all the time. Music is moving on and changing. If it didn't, it would still be like the old days in New Orleans."
Performing on Sunday will be Shorty Rogers' Giants, the Claude Williamson Trio, the Ronnie Mathews Trio, the Bob Brookmeyer Quartet, Feather, Mike Fahn Quintet, Stephanie Haynes, the Robert Conti All-Stars (featuring the first California appearance by West Indian trumpet player Dizzy Reece), the Walter Bishop Quintet, Jack Sheldon leading the Pepper Adams Quartet and the Frank Morgan Quintet.
Where most festivals unfold in a linear progression from one act to the next, the Pacific Coast festival will offer a revolving combination of three groups performing simultaneously throughout the day in adjacent rooms in the hotel.
"Each group is playing twice so people will be able to catch each one at least once," Norsworthy said. "That way you don't have to sit in one seat for eight hours and watch eight different groups. It's more the type of event where you can just come and hang out."
Because Norsworthy also works in Orange Coast College's community services department, he has been closely involved with the annual OCC Jazz Festival. But the inspiration for the Pacific Coast festival came from the annual "Musicians' Bash" presented by the Orange County Musicians' Union.
"I went to that last year and thought, 'This is terrific. Why not put on a jazz program like this? So I basically stole the whole idea from Local 7 of the musicians union," he said.
Norsworthy plans to repeat the festival annually regardless of the financial outcome on Sunday. At $25 a head, ticket prices might seem high, but Norsworthy said, "With eight hours of music and a dozen groups, I think people will get their money's worth." He predicts that the festival will at least break even and said that "any profits will go to (Orange Coast College's) community services to support future concerts."
The only sad note for Norsworthy is the absence of baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, who is in the hospital undergoing treatment for cancer. Adams had been scheduled to perform Sunday in a quintet, which instead will perform as a quartet led by Jack Sheldon.
"When I talked to Pepper, he was very upset that he couldn't make it to perform," Norsworthy said. "So we are going to dedicate the festival to him."
Wilson wrote a special composition for Adams that Adams was originally scheduled to perform with Wilson's orchestra. But since Adams can not be there to participate, Wilson said he will instead make a point of acknowledging the contributions of Adams as well as those of trumpeter-arranger Thad Jones and pianist Teddy Wilson, both of whom died in recent weeks.