An affair to remember


Jazz Affair will reach an historic milestone in Three Rivers this weekend.

On Friday, the annual jazz festival will celebrate its 40th anniversary, a mark which makes it the oldest traditional jazz festival west of the Mississippi, probably the oldest in the nation and possibly the oldest in the world.

“I think Sacramento’s is about two months younger than ours,” said Rusty Crain, chairperson for Jazz Affair. “Theirs is much larger but we still see some good crowds.”

Crain said Jazz Affair attracts between 1,200 and 1,500 people to Three Rivers each year, nearly doubling the population of the rural mountain community overnight. Crain said there weren’t any special plans to celebrate the 40th event, except the usual – hot Jazz, friendly people, beautiful scenery and great food.

Crain said this year’s Jazz Affair features eight professional jazz bands, including Three Rivers’ own High Sierra Traditional Jazz Band, at four venues in the community. Performances will begin Friday afternoon, April 12, and continue through Sunday afternoon, April 14 at the Lions Arena, Memorial Building, Tented Area in the Memorial Building Parking lot at St. Anthony’s Retreat.


The Bands

This year’s festival includes a special guest, clarinetist Bob Draga, who will make appearances with many of the bands during the festival. Arguably one of the most popular and talented jazz musicians in the country, Draga has mastered the art of pleasing an audience with his classy appearance, his seemingly unending list of jokes, and his superb musical talent.

A true jazz clarinetist, Bob’s musical style is equally at home with both traditional jazz and Swing. He even sounds great with a zydeco band! All of which easily explains why he has become a staple at jazz festivals and cruises everywhere.

“The first thing I think about is, how will I make music with this band? What can we do together that will please the audience? I listen to what they do. As a guest artist, I have to tailor what I do to their book. I have to make it work. That’s my job,” said Draga about his experience working with varied styles and bands.

In addition, Bob is a friend to young jazz musicians everywhere, taking time to coach and encourage whenever asked. In fact, the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society Foundation recently established a scholarship fund in his name that presents cash awards each year to top high school clarinetists.

One of the bands Draga knows well is Valley-based Blue Stree Jazz Band is celebrating its own anniversary. For 25 years, the band has played festivals all over the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe with styles ranging from Dixieland to Gospel. The band has rleased a new CD and even written a 224 page book about its history.

Ivory&Gold celebrates the greatest examples of American jazz, blues, ragtime, Broadway and hits from the Great American Songbook. The husband and wife duo, consisting of Anne Barnhart on flute and vocals with Jeff Barnhart on piano and vocals, was formed in 2001 to perform to great acclaim at the prestigious annual Jazz Festival in Sun Valley, Idaho. Subsequently, Ivory&Gold® has been invited to appear in hundreds of venues on six of the seven continents. A typical concert will feature a wide variety of styles from Ragtime to Swing, Broadway to Gospel. Ivory&Gold boasts seven recordings and appear on the prestigious USA based Arbors Records label.

Jerry Krahn, acoustic guitar instrumentalist, brings a rich personal and diverse musical history to the stage.  His “ear-catching” guitar styling, passionate melodies and lyrical improvising intrigue and entertain a wide cross section of listeners around the country and the world; expressing raw emotion without gadgets or wires –  but with a penchant for reaching out with accessible, tasteful acoustic music. Jerry’s skill and knowledge of early jazz guitar masters, art of rhythm playing and solos in the archtop jazz guitar style keep him in demand in Nashville as a studio session player, soloist, with his own quartet and western swing bands including The Time Jumpers (with appearances on the Grand Ole Opry).

The Night Blooming Jazzmen (NBJ, or “Nightbloomers”) is a traditional, or dixieland band, have been playing nearly as long as Jazz Affair has been in existence. There were very few jazz bands in existence then – not enough to put on a festival. The NBJ was started as an ad-hoc “pick-up band.” It was not expected to survive – but the NBJ were so well-received and had so much fun that they stuck together. Since then, they have played thousands of concerts and are one of the busiest bands in the nation. They have a lot of fun with their audiences and each other and despite this their music is top-quality. They play well and put on a great show. The band’s Sunday morning “hymn-a-long” often has the largest attendance of any event at a festival.

The Reynolds Brothers Rhythm Rascals, led by brothers John and Ralf, specialize in hot, swinging, Washboard Jazz.  The brothers’ music originated in the 1920’s and ‘30s, when groups like the Washboard Rhythm Kings, the Georgia Washboard Stompers and Clarence William’s Washboard Band sold millions of records.  The carefree, swinging hot jazz created by these bands is served up by the Rhythm Rascals with verve, style and a dash of humor.

One of the most versatile bands at the festival is The Titan Hot Seven. This band of merry men features traditional jazz, swing, ballads, ragtime, novelty tunes and spontaneous, outrageous humor in every one of their sets.  Rather than relying on set arrangements, the Titans tailor their music and mirth to each audience, guaranteeing that each show is full of surprises for everyone, including the performers! Hailed by fan, musician and critic alike, the Titan Hot Seven possesses a powerhouse ensemble capable of going from a whisper to a roar in the space of one tune.

The son of baseball great, Bill Rigney, Tom is a native of the Bay Area. His musical career began after he finished his graduate studies at Harvard University, where he received a Masters degree in Fine Art. For the last 35 years he has traveled the world, written hit songs and released seven CDs with his former band. And now, with the broadening and deepening of his composing skills, and the refinement of his virtuoso technique on the violin, Rigney steps out as the focal point of Flambeau, and as the creator of most the band’s music. The strong Cajun/zydeco influence creates irresistible dance grooves that have been his specialty for 20 years. Rigney is now regarded as one of the premier blues and roots music violinists in the world, and continues to be a prolific composer of powerfully compelling music for the violin, music whose influences come from an extremely wide range of musical styles within the broad boundaries of American Roots Music.

Since forming in 1971, Seattle’s Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band has performed in every way imaginable – from the grand opening of the Kingdome to the final beam raising of the Westin Hotel. Uptown Swing & Jazz plays various styles and sounds other than Dixieland from solo piano to hot big band swing sound.


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