The Jazz Journalists Association is pleased to announce the 2014 Jazz Heroes: advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz who have had significant impact in their local communities. The 'Jazz Hero' awards, made annually on the basis of nominations from community members, are presented in conjunction with the JJA's annual Jazz Awards honoring significant achievements in jazz music and journalism and with the month-long celebration of JazzApril.
Men have long dominated the field of jazz, but the Wall Street Jazz Festival, produced for its 11th year by Peggy Stern and John Bilotti, challenges that domination by focusing on women as leaders. It is not an exclusive women’s jazz fest; to the contrary, most of the bands are generously peopled with men. But the principle behind the festival, a two-day, outdoor, free-to-the-public event held in late August in downtown Kingston, NY, is simply that women leaders and their musical concepts are being presented. This sets it apart from most other festivals in the country (and the world), with the forward-thinking communities of Ulster and Dutchess Counties providing the ideal forum for such a long overdue presentation. And the success of this fest earns Peggy and John applause from the JJA as Jazz Heroes.
The premise of the Wall Street Jazz Festival was conceived in 2003 after Peggy and John met at a local jazz festival where no women were playing. Their concept was to hold an event "where the traditions meet the progressives, and all the leaders are women." Those leaders have included Claire Daly, Francesca Tanksley, Judi Silvano, Dena DeRose, Sweet Sue Terry, Jay Clayton, Marilyn Crispell, Jamie Baum, Jenny Scheinman, Virginia Mayhew, Rebecca Coupe Franks, Sumi Tonooka, Nina Sheldon, Erika Lindsay, Lee Shaw, Betty MacDonald, Veronica Nunes, Jane Blackstone, Donna Antonow and myself, Teri Roiger, among others.
The fest’s two producers are well-matched: John was a New York City fireman before moving to the Hudson Valley in the mid ‘70s, creating his own jazz club (The Half Note, in Palenville) and later becoming one of the partners of Joyous Lake, in Woodstock. He is the CEO of High Woods Restoration, a contracting company, in Saugerties.
Peggy is a well known and accomplished pianist, who switched her preferred repertoire years ago from classical to jazz improvisation, via salsa and rhythm and blues. She’s well-known as a composer, with four of her tunes featured in the Sher Real Book series; has worked extensively with Lee Konitz, Emily Remler, Jay Clayton, Diane Schuur, Stanley Turrentine, Gary Peacock, George Mraz, Billy Drewes and Thomas Chapin, to name a few; has toured Europe, Japan, Australia and the U.S, and has appeared at the Jazzpar (Copenhagen), Montreal, DuMaurier, Manly (Sydney), Port Townsend, Bell Atlantic, IAJE and JVC Jazz fests, as well as the MaryLou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Currently she splits her time between the Hudson Valley and Austin,Texas where her daughter Sarka Mraz and family live.
“We hope the Wall Street Jazz Festival is regarded as a great gift to the community -- and a free one at that!” Peggy has said. “We hope to reach as many people as possible, and we do not concentrate on their age, race, gender or ethnicity, only their ears.” Peggy and John are being honored as individual Jazz Heroes, who work together. John and Peggy will receive their statuette at a free, public event in April --
(Teri Roiger, Jazzstock)
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