'Very much the essence of jazz'

August 21, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Guitarist Paul Bollenback has missed playing at only one Renfrew Jazz Festival since it began 12 years ago. He had a good excuse: He was on tour in Japan.

Bollenback will return to Waynesboro, Pa., on Sunday, Aug. 24, and he'll be bringing some friends.

"This is like a family reunion," he says.

There will be vibraphonist Joe Locke, Steve Wilson on saxophones, drummer Billy Hart and Ed Howard on bass.

Bollenback says all of the players have played with each other at some point, but all five never have played together as a band.

He comes back to Renfrew year after year for the setting and the chance to play for real music lovers.

Bollenback expects the ensemble to pretty much stick to the standard jazz repertoire. But, he adds, "I know their music and they know mine." They might pepper the program with a couple of each other's songs. There won't be much time - or need - for rehearsal. Too much rehearsal takes the life out of the music, Bollenback says.


He describes the approach as "very much the essence of jazz," allowing each individual room to be creative.

Born in Chicago, Bollenback grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., and came to Washington, D.C., in the mid-'70s. He doesn't recall exactly how or when he met Andrew Sussman, organizer of the Renfrew jazz event.

Sussman, composer, jazz pianist, jazz critic and executive director of the Cumberland Valley School of Music, remembers clearly that he heard Bollenback playing in Hagerstown, at the former Park Circle restaurant.

"I was just blown away at how good he was," Sussman says.

Sussman kept in touch with the guitarist, and when he needed musicians for the first jazz festival at Renfrew, he contacted Bollenback.

The New York City-based guitarist, who has been composing for "many, many years," has played with several noted jazzmen, including organist Joey DeFrancesco and saxophonist Gary Bartz. He has recorded three albums as a leader and many others as a sideman. Bollenback says he's been doing a lot of sideman work recently, something he considers very important in his development as a player.

When you play with good players, their knowledge rubs off on you, he says. You learn more than you could ever learn reading books, he says.

Locke, a self-taught improviser, studied classical percussion and composition at the Eastman School of Music. This year he was voted No. 1 vibist in DownBeat Magazine's Critic's Poll and Brazil's International Jazz Poll. He has compiled 16 albums as a band leader, including the Grammy-nominated "Moment to Moment," a tribute to the music of Henry Mancini, and has played on more than 40 other albums as a sideman.

Wilson has recorded five CDs as band leader and been a regular member of groups led by the likes of Chick Corea, Dave Holland, James Williams and Mulgrew Miller. His most recent recording includes a guest appearance by Ren Marie, who has co-written songs with Sussman and performed at the 1999 Renfrew Jazz Festival.

Drummer Billy Hart, dubbed "The great Billy Hart" by Bollenback, was a member of Herbie Hancock's sextet from 1969 to 1973 and later played with McCoy Tyner and Stan Getz. He has recorded several albums as leader, and his ensembles have included Bill Frisell and Branford Marsalis.

Hart took a young Ed Howard, a fellow Washington, D.C., native, under his wing when the bassist first went to New York about 1979 or 1980.

Howard also knew Bollenback's influence. He met the guitarist when he was 15. Bollenback was in the first band the young bass player played in, and Hart says the older guitarist was really hard on him. Howard says Bollenback was demanding because he always strives to be really great, and years later, Bollenback apologized.

Howard started playing bass when he was 12 or 13, because, he laughs, his sister's boyfriend, who he thought was cool, played bass. Howard also liked the bass part and continued.

"I fell in love with it," he says.

Howard is still in love and is looking forward to playing with longtime friends.

"Jazz is the sound of discovering together," he says. It's easier to get to a deeper part of the music when you have a personal relationship - a love and history.

"It will be a magical moment," he says. "We all trust each other."

Audience members also are looking forward to the magic.

Don and Peggy Weller of

Waynesboro have attended at least half of the jazz festivals at Renfrew.

"It's a beautiful spot," Don Weller says.

He looks forward to hearing high quality jazz in his "back yard" and says a concert is much more fun outside.

Peggy Weller appreciates the performers the festival brings to Waynesboro and being able to hear the music without having to trek to Washington, D.C.

Elena Kehoe of Waynesboro, Pa., has attended all but one or two of the previous 11 jazz festivals at Renfrew Park, and she plans to be there Sunday.

"I love music," she says. "I love jazz. We don't have many events like this.

"The setting is so beautiful. The music is very hip and sophisticated jazz."

Kehoe calls jazz an integrating and diverse art form. "The more of that we have - not only in Franklin County - the better it is for the country," she says.

A group of people come together and it's just been really wonderful, she says.

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