HistNote888-Roswell Jazz

Jim Harris

Roswell Jazz Festival: Great Live 

Music Nearby

            On Saturday, October 19, wife Mary and I drove two hours to Roswell for an event I had heard about for several years but never had experienced.

            That Saturday was one day in the 14thAnnual Roswell Jazz Festival, a five-day celebration of a type of music I learned to appreciate when I was a high school student in Dallas.

            I have heard quite a bit of live music this year, visiting in Austin several times, and at the Roswell Jazz Festival (RJF) I heard some of the best music I have heard in a long, long time, no matter what the genre.

            The RJF put on a great set of concerts by a number of world-class musical artists, and Roswell isn’t that far away from anywhere in Lea County.

            In addition, the admission to the programs is incredibly reasonable, many of the performances taking place conveniently in downtown at the city’s Convention Center, which is adjacent to the Roswell Art Museum, one of the fine museums in all of New Mexico.  A few of the programs were free.

            Often called America’s classical music, jazz is a type of music that originated in the African-American community, and in particular, black communities in New Orleans.  It emerged in the late 19thcentury and early 20thcentury from several other kinds of music present in America at the time.  That root music included blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, and ragtime.

            During the last century, many different types of jazz emerged.  They include hard bop, free jazz, jazz-rock fusion, smooth jazz, and cool jazz, all being variations on a style that included much improvisation by individual members of a band.

            Some music lovers think of jazz as America’s “classical” music.

            Today jazz can be found around the world, and different countries or regions have developed their own variations, such as that found in Brazil, Germany, and Cuba.

            Over thirty musicians and vocalists performed at the RJF. They included Ted Rosenthal, piano; Houston Person, tenor saxophone; Rande Sandke, trumpet; Ricky Malichi, drums; Scott Edmunds, clarinet; Chuck Redd, vibraphone; Richard Simon, bass; and vocalist Hillary Smith.

            That last name should be familiar to some folks in Lea County.  Hillary went to high school in Hobbs.  She is the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Charlie Smith.  Just before his death, Dr. Smith donated a number of family items to the Lea County Museum.  The Smith-Watson Room is on the second floor of the 1931 Lister Building. 

            Below is the opening sentence of Hillary’s biography on her web site “hilljam.com”:

            ”With a deep soulfulness rooted in the Gospel driven churches of her youth, a classically trained vocal instrument that’s a natural wonder, and a God-given instinct for swinging a lyric, vocalist Hillary Smith has been electrifying audiences across the United States for more than 30 years.”

            Her biography on that site goes on to say that she is “as comfortable with swinging jazz as she is with funky blues.”

            Readers of the History Notebook may not be as familiar with the other performers at the RJF, but many of them are world-renown artists with interesting biographies.  I will mention just a couple of them here.

            Upright bass player Richard Simon was the featured “Guest of Honor” at this year’s Festival.  He was born in Roswell in 1947 when his father was in the Air Force, but he has lived many other places and experienced many other kinds of jobs for being a jazz base player.

            In fact, several years ago he was teaching college English in California when he decided to make music his career.  He Has a Masters degree in English at the State University of New York/Stony Brook.  He taught English in the Los Angeles Community College District.

            Of his discovery of jazz, he says, “I was transfixed and transported by the lush and swinging sounds.  I re-discovered my love for music—left not a few English compositions’ participles dangling unfortunately.”

            The one other musician at the festival I will mention played music with Simon on the evening I was in Roswell.  That is Houston Person, who plays the saxophone.

            Here is a Wikipedia entry about him just to let you see the quality of the musical artists present at the RJF:

            “Houston Person (born November 10, 1934) is an American jazz tenor saxophonist and record producer. Although he has performed in the hard bop and swinggenres, he is most experienced in and best known for his work in soul jazz. He received the Eubie Blake Jazz Award in 1982.

            “Person grew up in Florence, South Carolina, and first played piano before switching to tenor saxophone.[1] He studied at South Carolina State College where he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1999.

            “In the United States Air Force, he joined a service band stationed in West Germany, and played with Don EllisEddie HarrisCedar Walton, and Leo Wright. He later continued his studies at Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Connecticut.

            “He first became known for a series of albums for Prestige in the 1960s. Contrary to popular belief, he was never married to the vocalist Etta Jones, but did spend many years as her musical partner, recording, performing and touring, and for much of his career this association was what he was best known for. They first met playing in organist Johnny Hammond‘s band.

            “Person has been a resident of Newark, New Jersey.”

            For sure, I will be back in Roswell for the 2020 RJF.

            I wish we could have a music festival in Lea County that could be of the quality found in the UFO city to our west, and I can imagine the amount of work that went into putting on this year’s jazz fest.

            City of Roswell residents, I’m sure, are proud of the kind of quality-of-life experiences offered withIN their city limits.  The list of those offerings are extensive, including two world-class museums, the Roswell Art Museum and the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art.

            To conclude this History Notebook, in the future I am going to be paying just as much attention to what is happening in Roswell as I am in what is going on in Lubbock.