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Jazz, weather provide classic combo at Renfrew

August 25, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Under a spreading horse chestnut tree, a jazz quintet played Sunday at Renfrew Park for an appreciative audience of more than 500 aficionados and those just looking for a way to spend a cool couple of hours on a warm summer day.

"Blue was just the color of the sea, until my lover left me," Chris McNulty sang on "The Meaning of the Blues." The mood was anything but blue, however, as mellow and laid-back described the demeanor of the crowd.

The setting was somewhat incongruous, with the sounds of the city wafting over the fields behind Royer House, a stone farmhouse built in 1812. That is one reason the Renfrew Institute decided to begin the free Jazz Festival a dozen years ago, according to Melodie Anderson-Smith, director of the institute.

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"It's a form of music not extensively offered in this area," said Anderson-Smith. The crowds have been growing with the years, something she credits in part to the influence of the Western Maryland Blues Fest in Hagerstown.

Anderson-Smith credited Andrew Sussman, executive director of the Cumberland Valley School of Music in Chambersburg, Pa., with having the musical connections to get the festival organized each year.

Back for the 11th time in 12 years, guitarist Paul Bollenback was joined by Steve Wilson on saxophone, Billy Hart on drums, Ed Howard on stand-up bass and Joe Locke on vibraphone. McNulty, a native Australian, joined them on vocals in the final set.

The artists' rsums include working with jazz greats such as Charlie Byrd, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. Locke occasionally has wandered out of the genre to work with the likes of Elvis Costello and the Beastie Boys.

Sussman said Bollenback has come each year but one with a different set of performers, some of whom have never before worked together.

The musicians who performed Sunday all played together various times in their careers, but never all six at once. Nevertheless, they worked their way seamlessly through standards by Jerome Kern, Thelonius Monk and Cole Porter, among others.

"We've all worked with each other in different combinations all the time," said Wilson, who played at the festival three years ago. "For all intents and purposes, it's a band."

In the case of Bollenback and Howard, who has performed at the festival three times, the association goes back decades. Bollenback told Howard he recently dug up photos from their first gig at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., when they were 15 or 16 years old.

Ken and Heidi Lockridge of Waynesboro brought their four children. One of them, Joshua Messinger, talked with the musicians afterward and was excited to learn that his uncle, jazz vocalist J.D. Walter, worked with several of them.

"We were amazed to find a place like this" when they moved to Waynesboro about a year ago, Ken Lockridge said of Renfrew Park. "Not many towns this size have a jazz concert."

Chambersburg Area Senior High School Principal Barry Purvis took in the performance, which lasted an hour longer than scheduled.

"I love jazz, and these guys are unbelievable," he said as he kicked back in a lawn chair. "These guys don't even practice together. They just come together and play. It's nice Sunday afternoon music on a beautiful day."

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