FULTON, NY – The Jazz Fest first came to Fulton as a chamber event eight years ago after a request was made to bring the smooth, rhythmic music to the Fulton community for one weekend each summer.
Originally, former owners of The Lock restaurant did their own Jazz Fest on the water behind their location, but when ownership transferred the event ceased to exist.
“Tony and I always loved it, so that’s why we asked the chamber to bring it back in some way,” said Janet Rebeor, member of the Fulton Jazz Fest board of directors.
Despite changes in the director position at the chamber over the years, Jazz Fest forged on as a chamber event until two years ago when all events were dropped.
With that, Joe Cortini, Bill Hubel, Tony Rebeor, Barry Ostrander, Steve Chirello and Beth Dice jumped on board as well to bring the sultry sounds of jazz to the city on their own.
“So, we met as a group and decided we were going to try to do it on our own,” Rebeor said.
Together, they make up the strictly volunteer Jazz Fest Committee with last year marking their first year as a group.
Working under the city’s 501(c)(3) (tax exempt nonprofit) through the Fulton Community Development Agency, Rebeor said running the Fest on their own has worked out great.
“We had a couple thousand people attend last year, and we are hoping to see another good turnout this year,” she said.
The free event is one described as quality family fun as live music, food vendors and artisans come together to entertain children and adults of all ages.
While all committee members “wear many hats,” Rebeor is primarily responsible for fund raising.
“Janet has been instrumental in keeping the wheels turning. We would’ve had to hire three people to do all of what she does,” said fellow member of the Jazz Fest board of directors, Joe Cortini.
This year, a total of nearly 65 sponsors including Fulton Savings Bank as the lead sponsor helped make the event possible.
“Without the sponsors supporting us, there just wouldn’t be a Jazz Fest,” Rebeor said. “All of us feel very supportive of keeping an event like this in Fulton. When I go out to raise the money, I’ve gotten to know the businesses in town and they know me, so they allow me to come into their business with my hand out and ask them. If they can’t support us I certainly understand, and if they can our sponsorship’s go from $25 up to $5,000 and we have some at all levels.”
Support from the city and local community is not in short supply for Jazz Fest.
The event is located on the shores of Lake Neatahwanta behind the Community Ice Rink as it is a free location that provides the power, parking and space necessary to accommodate thousands of people.
“I have to tell you, the city gives us all the in kind services. They can’t give us money, so they very generously dedicate the week prior to getting ready, doing all the electrical, you name it, to get the site ready,” Rebeor explained.
However, the committee is on the brink of becoming their own non-profit to alleviate some financial strains with the ability to apply for grants.
As the event grows in popularity each year, having their own 501(c)(3) will enable the fest to expand even more with entertainment, food and hopefully even an educational component.
“As we grow financially, we hope to see it grow in attendance as well,” said Rebeor and Cortini agreed.
“As the festival grows, we would like to add more entertainment, hopefully adding another day either Thursday or Sunday. Along with that growth comes not only more music, but more vendors,” he said.
Right now, Bill Hubel of Blue Moon serves New Orleans cuisine along with beer and wine and other food vendors include Kathy’s Cakes and Specialty Treats and Upperlandings Neighborhood Bar and Grill.
And looking farther into the future, the goals of Jazz Fest grow to incorporate the youth of the city with an educational component to the festival.
“Many of the performers at Jazz Fest are educators and clinicians, they would be able to share their talents with local students during Jazz Fest weekend. I would love to be able to include a concert that would feature the students,” Cortini said.
Most importantly, the music portion of the event has flourished as years pass with committee goals to only continue evolving.
From past performing artists such as Melvin Sparks, Nancy Kelly, Joey DeFrancesco, Tony Monaco and Joe Magnarelli and Akiko, to this year’s headlining act, Jumaane Smith with Carmen Intorre on drums, the Jazz Fest line up is always one to impress.
“This year, we’re doing something for Jazz Fest that is sort of unprecedented and that is, we are bringing in two big bands. In other words, that means bands that have 16 or more members playing both contemporary arrangements of traditional music as well as original compositions,” Cortini said. “And we close each night out, as many major festivals do, with big party bands.”
Both big bands perform as opening acts for each night of Jazz Fest. Salt City Jazz Collective will open the event Friday (August 12) at 5 p.m.
Cortini described Salt City Jazz Collective as Syracuse’s longest running big band with several A-list musicians from the area as well as Cookie Coogan on vocals, “who brings her bigger than life personality to the front of the stage.”
FreeFall Jazz Orchestra, described by Cortini as the other big band of the event, led by Stan Gosek not only as the leader and pianist for the group, but also a composer and arranger whose music will be featured during the show.
A special treat with FreeFall is that they will bring in local artist who has performed up and down the east coast, Dani Ryan on vocals during their performance opening the second day of the event at 4 p.m. on Saturday (August 13.)
Closing bands for both nights of Jazz Fest come from well known party bands in the area.
“Atlas is a crowd favorite, so we frequently ask them to come back,” Cortini said.
Atlas, which Cortini explained has been around for 35 years and is one of the most popular bands in New York State, will close out the night on Friday starting at 8:30 p.m.
The final act of Jazz Fest from the band Classified, a Utica based band that is another popular go-to party band in Upstate New York, will close out the event starting at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
Longwood, described as the event’s “best kept secret” is a relatively young band comprised of some of Syracuse’s finest musicians, said Cortini. Longwood will perform on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
And finally, “The real shining star this year is our Headliner on Saturday, Jumaane Smith. Most people have heard Jumaane Smith before they just don’t realize it. He is Michael Buble’s lead trumpet player,” Cortini said.
Jumaane Smith and Carmen Intorre on drums will headline the event starting at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
“Joe certainly doesn’t disappoint us, he always brings great music. We are very fortunate to have a Joe Cortini that knows his music and his musicians and goes out of his way to book us the best talent because I don’t know what we would do if we didn’t have him. He is the expert, he’s a big asset to us,” said Rebeor.
And with big music, comes big followings.
“People that know music will travel for it,” said Rebeor, a statement that has proven true in years past.
According to Cortini, all the bands booked to perform have large followings and often times bring followers from many other areas. In the past, guests have come from as far as Albany, Rochester, Binghamton, Watertown and more.
“I love this event, I don’t want it to go away. It’s very near and dear to my heart and even though its a lot of work for all of us, Fulton needs a quality event like Jazz Fest,” Rebeor said.
A part of the Tobacco Free Network, Jazz Fest officials invite all to bring their chairs but leave their coolers and pets at home as live music shakes the crowd August 12 and 13 on the shores of Lake Neatahwanta.
For more information, call or text (315) 760-JAZZ.
Video of Jumaane Smith as found on his website.