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Area Musicians Tout Traditional Jazz's Cross-Generational Appeal


There are many styles of music featured at the Sacramento Music Festival, but traditional, New Orleans-style jazz has been always been at its core.

The Fulton Street Jazz Band has performed at the festival (formerly known as the Jazz Jubilee)  every year since itl was established in 1974.  

Of course traditional jazz goes back long before that, to the early 1900's, predating other forms that would follow.

"When this music was first being played in and around New Orleans there wasn't any other kind of jazz music," explains Fulton Street's pianist and founder Bob Ringwald. 

"This was jazz music.  Now of course it's gone and went to swing and then to more bebop and modern jazz, electric jazz and all sorts of things.  I always tend to think if one of the great jazz musicians from 1910 got reincarnated and came back and heard the type of music that's being played now they wouldn't even know what it is."

It’s true that many if not most jazz musicians these days aren’t playing much traditional jazz. Then again, there are established group’s like Fulton Street that perform it year round.  And there are younger bands like the Kortet, a foursome of 20-somethings that specialize in small group swing. Devan Kortan sings and plays guitar in the band.

"Our theory is that people like jazz, they just don't know it yet," says Kortan with a chuckle. "It's such a big umbrella term that a lot of people aren't normally exposed to this kind of swing music."

How did Kortan and his colleagues get their exposure?  Blame it on the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society, which sponsors the Sacramento Music Festival, and which also sponsors summer band camps. The Kortet was born at one of those.

"Every year up in Sly Park there’s 90 kids that go up. They form ten bands.  And they just arrange, rehearse, they have a coach, it's really great.  So [The Kortet] was one of the band's at camp. And now I'm going to be a counselor there," says Kortan.

Fulton Street trombonist Bob Williams says the camps play an important educational role in shaping well-rounded musicians.

"It used to be you’d go from Sousa to Coltrane and there's nothing in between. Traditional jazz has all the basic components that you're going to need in any kind of jazz you play.  And I think that local educators are starting to recognize the value of traditional jazz as a stepping stone to more modern forms of jazz. So you can stay here and do this with us, and it's fun.  Or you can go on with a better foundation, better sense of melody and harmony in your solos. More thoughtful players, I think, are coming out of this. We're getting a lot more credibility among educators, I think, which is very important," says Williams.  

"There's a good amount of trust in jazz that I really enjoy," says Kortet fill-in drummer Anthony Johnson. "You have to trust each other to play and listen and communicate.  And that's my favorite part about jazz, the communication."

"There's guys that can play it and do really sophisticated stuff and there's guys that can just make it real simple," says Willams.  He adds there is one universal quality about traditional jazz. 

"It just makes people happy. You're always tapping your feet, even if it's a blues."

Paul Conley

Managing Editor, Music and Arts

Paul oversees CapRadio's music formats on our radio stations and digital streams. He also supervises the creation of music and arts content across departments and platforms, including capradio.org.  Read Full Bio 

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