Jazz sizzles at Renfrew Park

August 30, 2004|by DON AINES

Renfrew Park is about a world away from Birdland, Charlie "Bird" Parker's New York City cabaret of the 1950s, but music is a universal language that the crowd of about 300 at Sunday's Jazz Festival seemed to understand.

Sunday was the birthday of the legendary alto saxophonist and, although he died nearly half a century ago, his music lived on with a quartet performing Parker's "Au Privave" and other selections under the trees during the 13th annual festival, presented by Renfrew Institute.

Back for the 12th time in 13 years, guitarist Paul Bollenback brought with him saxophonist Eric Alexander, Chris Berger on stand-up bass and Montez Coleman on drums. With the park's stone Royer House as a backdrop, they played cool jazz while the audience tried to escape hot temperatures, clustering their lawn chairs and blankets under the shade afforded by trees.


"They are very, very good. Very professional, very subdued, very free-spirited" said Masha Dye of Martinsburg, W.Va.

Born in Leningrad, Russia, Dye said she learned to appreciate music in a family that included her concert-pianist mother.

"I am an avid lover of jazz," said Dye, who said she scans area papers looking for events such as the one at Renfrew.

"We loved it," said Bonnie Smith as she pushed her 10-month-old daughter Anjolee in a stroller. "She's a big fan. In fact she even brought her own bongo drum," Smith said, although Anjolee seemed more interested in a bottle at that moment.

"This is a great series. I remember the first time I came out here. I thought, 'Wow, what's this all about?'" Bollenback said of his first gig at Renfrew. Since the series started, Bollenback has become its backbone, bringing together a different group of musicians to perform each year.

"You can't say any one of them was the most fun," Bollenback said. "It's just nice to come out and play."

"A lot of people here have never heard jazz of this caliber," said Andrew Sussman, director of the Cumberland Valley School of Music. He said it helps to have an expert mix the sound.

"I don't make much on this gig, but it's so cool to work it every year," said soundman Bob Ranalli of Gettysburg, Pa.

Despite the outdoor venue, the quartet's sound was almost as clear as a studio recording.

"It's my job to make it sound like there is no sound," Ranalli said.

Having traveled from New York to Waynesboro, Coleman said he will be touring Canada next week.

"It's cool. The travel gets to you sometimes, but once you get on the bandstand, it makes up for it," he said.

After playing "Body and Soul," "Emily" and other classics, the quartet finished its final set and Bollenback said it was time to fulfill his "educational obligation" and take questions from the audience.

"Just play," someone yelled.

So they did.

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