Jazz musician encourages dancing at annual free festival

August 21, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Houston Person was about 16 years old when his parents gave him a saxophone for Christmas.

Person was enthusiastic about the gift, but he was more into football, baseball and basketball at the time. Still, he practiced his sax.

It wasn't until his prom, when he heard the band of his future alma mater -- South Carolina State College -- perform that he decided he wanted to pursue music as a career.

"I didn't dance. I just listened. I wasn't very attentive to my date. I was mesmerized by the music," Person says.


Contrary to his behavior at his prom, Person is hoping people will get up and dance Sunday when he performs with several other musicians at the 17th annual Renfrew Jazz Festival.

The free festival brings nationally known jazz artists together to perform behind Renfrew Museum, where people can sit on their blankets and lawn chairs, or get up and dance.

Listening is OK too, says Person, who will perform his tenor sax with pianist David Leonhardt, vocalist Nancy Reed, bassist Matthew Parrish and drummer Paul Wells.

Andrew Sussman, a key organizer for the festival, says Person is fun to listen to and watch, a real crowd-pleaser.

The set will include a few songs written by Sussman, who is executive director for the Cumberland Valley School of Music, as well as the group improvising familiar melodies.

Person has recorded than 100 albums and has produced albums for other jazz musicians. On Sept. 9, HighNote Records will release "The Art and Soul of Houston Person," a three-CD package of standards by great Tin Pan Alley composers such as Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and Richard Rodgers.

Person said he will try to bring some advance copies to Renfrew and display them with other albums, which he will sign after the concert.

To hear a jazz concert at a New York club can cost $200, Person says, "so we take it to the neighborhoods for those people who can't afford it." Person, who lives in Nyack, N.Y., often performs with the the Jazzmobile program in New York City. "I just think that everybody should hear music," he says.

His late mother felt the same, thinking her son should be well-rounded. Hence, the saxophone. She also made her son listen to the Metropolitan Opera House on the radio on Saturdays for an hour before he could go out to play. And she made him listen to bandleaders Sammy Kaye and Fred Waring on Sundays.

So how does Person, 73, feel about his parents' musical mission?

"They got me hooked. ... They did well by me," he said.

Though that didn't prevent his folks from being concerned when he told them he wanted a career as a musician.

"It was the same old story: 'Better get a backup.' ... That was the reason for that English major," Person says.

But he never needed it.

If you go ...

WHAT: 17th annual Renfrew Jazz Festival with the David Leonhardt Quartet featuring singer Nancy Reed with special guest artist Houston Person.

WHEN: 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24

WHERE: Lawn behind Renfrew Museum, 1010 E. Main St., Waynesboro, Pa. If it rains, the concert will be held at Waynesboro Area Middle School auditorium, 702 E. Second St.

COST: Free

CONTACT: For more information, call 717-762-0373.

MORE: Free parking is available in Renfrew's lower lot off Welty Road. Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets. Attendees may bring picnics, though no alcoholic beverages, and they must take their trash with them.

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