Making music to promote unity
Posted: February 18, 2013
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — Some came for the music. Some came for the desserts. But the 100 people attending the John Kirby Jazz Fest Saturday night were all supporting the same cause: The Coalition for Racial Unity.
The Coalition, which works to build “bridges not walls” between people, was marking Black History Month with its celebration of Kirby, a Winchester native who was very influential in the world of jazz.
The event at Piccadilly’s Public House was also a fundraiser to help support the nonprofit organization’s Diversity Circles, forums on justice and unity, and the annual Unity Walk.
A highlight of the evening was the Shenandoah University Jazz Sextet, lead by Robert Larson, who is director of jazz studies at the university.
The sextet, Larson said, plays in the authentic style of Kirby’s own group, the Onyx Club Boys, who reached the height of their popularity from 1938 to 1941. The SU group performed on the trumpet, alto sax, piano, bass and drums, Larson said, but with a soprano saxophone replacing the usual clarinet that Kirby had in his band.
Kirby’s group backed singers such as Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn in the heyday of jazz.
Larson said Kirby’s music is “very intricate” and was influenced by classical forms.
“It was as sophisticated as possible,” Larson said.
Kirby, who died in 1952, was named to the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1993. He grew up in Winchester at 442 N. Kent St., and a state historical marker marks the site.
SU’s Jazz Sextet was followed on stage by the SV Jazz quartet.
Seated at a table, Sharon Dixon of Winchester said she likes to listen to jazz but came to the event because she knows Kirby’s grandchildren, the Williams family.
Winchester resident James Cosby, a member of the Coalition board, praised Larson for the job he does each year getting good jazz musicians to perform.
Justine Rose, whose husband John was playing in the SV Jazz quartet, said she was “definitely” enjoying herself.
She said she was there to support the Coalition, and listening to Kirby’s brand of music was the icing on the cake.
Speaking of cake, Mardell Rogers of Star Tannery had high praise for the dessert selections at the event. She was there with co-workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Coalition board member Nancy Sinback was pleased with the turnout.
“We’ve been doing it for the last ten years,” she said, adding that this was only the second time the Jazz Fest was held indoors.
Sinback hopes the event brings more awareness to the Coalition, as well as to the music of a native son.
“There aren’t too many opportunities to hear good jazz here,” she added.
— Contact Val Van Meter at email@example.com