Springfield Jazz and Blues Festival today and Saturday features 15 acts at two outdoor stages

A new entertainment experience will launch Friday that will draw crowds from the community and out of town for what may become a downtown Springfield summer tradition.

The inaugural Springfield Jazz and Blues Festival, presented by the Kiwanis Club of Springfield, offers a chance to catch some of the biggest names in jazz along with regional and local performers and groups for free on Friday and Saturday. Visitors will find 15 acts on two outdoor stages: National Road Commons Park, located at 21 Fisher St., and Mother Stewart’s Brewing Company, 102 W. Columbia St.

Festival organizers see this as a glance at why the popularity of these musical genres is growing.

“We’ve got a very eclectic view of jazz and blues and if there’s any variations of these you can think of, we’ll have them. If you like this type of music, you’ll find something you like,” said Todd Stoll, the festival’s music director, who recruited the talent and will be performing with the Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra.

The festival will be headlined by world-renowned jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli, who has cut 20 solo albums and appeared on albums by artists including Paul McCartney and James Taylor, at 9:30 p.m. Friday, and Samara Joy, a vocalist whose stock is rising in the jazz community and performed recently on the “Today” show, at 9 p.m. Saturday with the Jazz Orchestra.

Add in seasoned performers like keyboardist Bobby Floyd, who has played with Ray Charles and the Count Basie Orchestra, bluesman Marquise Knox of St. Louis and Robert Mason and it’s a chance to discover and celebrate.

“Pitzarelli is a $65 ticket in most cities and you can see him here for free. You can thank the Kiwanis for stepping up for that,” said Stoll.

Springfield’s own John Legend and several businesses are helping sponsor the event.

A graduate of North High School who works for the Jazz at Lincoln Center education program in New York City, Stoll helped revive local interest in jazz by bringing other talented musicians for a program called the Holiday Jazz Stomp in 2017 and 2018.

Stoll confessed he thought that first show would draw 50-75 people but packed the house at United Senior Services, which he said speaks to this music being multi-generational.

In 2019, Stoll worked with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra and music director Peter Stafford Wilson to form the Jazz Orchestra, which has drawn crowds to the John Legend Theater.

Just as that program was taking off, Rich Carey of Kiwanis approached Stoll with the idea for a jazz and blues festival in downtown Springfield. Unfortunately, this was January 2020 and the oncoming pandemic stalled the plans.

Now having been through all that, Carey sees it as a reason to get back out. The first goal is to produce an event that improves the lives in the Springfield community, reflecting a diverse audience and for all sides of town, with the park capturing the urban feel of the music while still being surrounded by grass and trees and word has spread.

“It’s going to be an atmosphere unlike anything else in Springfield with late night jams and just a very, very cool event,” he said.

Carey credits Kevin Loftis of Mother Stewart’s as a prime reason the festival is able to go on. Had the business not survived the pandemic, there would be no festival.

Carey said any profits raised will go toward Kiwanis service programs for children.

Attendees should bring their own blankets or lawn seating or can stand to watch the shows, and should arrive 30-45 minutes before the first act. There will be plenty of food and drink options from food trucks and vendors; visitors are prohibited from bringing their own alcoholic beverages on the festival grounds in the park or at Mother Stewart’s.

“For anybody that’s hungry, this is the place to be this weekend,” said Carey.

There will also be a kids’ zone sponsored by Ridgewood Bank, adjacent to the festival grounds, that will have inflatables and other activities for the youngsters.

Parking will be available in the lot next to the Hatch Artist Studios, the Park at 99 parking garage on Fountain Ave. and Ohio Valley Medical Center’s parking lot.

Following each night’s performances, special jam sessions with some of the artists will occur inside Mother Stewart’s. This is a ticketed event and tickets will be available on the festival grounds.

Stoll said he’s thrilled for the optimism the festival is bringing to Springfield.

Carey has a hope, goal and plan that this weekend will be the beginning chapter of an annual jazz and blues fest here and he’d love to see it expand to include other venues and an extra day. People need to be ready for this one to get it rolling.

“Anybody who loves music at all should be coming to this event. It’s going to be a great weekend,” he said.

For more information on the festival, go to springfieldjazzbluesfest.com.

Friday’s Schedule

Commons Stage: Mother’s Jazz Collective, 5 p.m.; Chris Brown Trio with George DeLancey and Willie Barthell III, 6:30; Robert Mason B3 Trio with Lauren Sevian, 8; John Pizzarelli Trio, 9:30

Mother Stewart’s Stage: Larry Humphrey, 5:30 p.m.; Birdshack, 7; Pharez Whitted, 8:30

Saturday’s Schedule

Commons Stage: New Basics Brass Band, 4:30 p.m.; Sydney McSweeney with Cedric Easton and Circle of Friends, 6 p.m.; Bobby Floyd Trio with Sean Jones, 7:30 p.m.; Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra with Samara Joy, 9 p.m.

Mother Stewart’s Stage: Urban Jazz Coalition, 4 p.m.; Talisha Holmes, 5:30 p.m.; Eric Jerardi, 7 p.m.; Marquise Knox, 8:30 p.m.

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