Smile Politely

Jazz Walk 2012: A stroll through the park

When it comes to the music coverage here at Smile Politely, even the casual reader wouldn’t be hard-pressed, and I would be the first one to admit this, that we have a bit of an indie bias. There is a rich and diverse music scene around this community and we are working hard to make sure our coverage continues to introduce, or re-introduce, you to that eclectic goodness. The music scene is not just Seth Fein, it is not just the downtown rotation, and it is not just Pygmalion. As such, we are proud to be co-sponsoring a wonderful community event that we think showcases a lot of oft-overlooked (by us) local talent.

Friday evening’s Jazz Walk 2012 marks the eighth year that the Urbana Park District has invited the Champaign-Urbana community to come out to one of its most pristine parks, take pleasure in the fading bits of summer, and listen to a wide array of local music. The event takes place in the Wandell Sculpture Garden at Meadowbrook Park. The 3/4 mile long path will be lined with ten different musical acts ranging from solo saxophonist Seth Anders to the DR Dixie band, a six-piece Dixie outfit that boasts over 300 years of performance experience — you should probably crosscheck that with them yourself.

The event is free and happens to take place at probably the most family friendly destination in the area, so please do bring the kids. Just tell them it’s like trick-or-treating, but they get an undying appreciation for music, the community, and the outdoors instead of a bite-size Baby Ruth. And if you do bring the kids — and/or the Baby Ruth — they (you) can always run off that extra energy at probably the only playground in town, that I know of, where you can still get splinters, like the good ole days. Those things build character.

We truly are proud to be co-sponsoring such a community oriented event, and especially happy to have had the chance to catch up with the organizer of Jazz Walk 2012 and Community Program Manager at the Urbana Park District, Janet Soesbe. Janet gave us an inside look into the history of this event and what new things we can expect this year, as well as her favorite sculpture out at Meadowbrook Park. And, not surprisingly, she had a different take on this question than our Arts Editors.

Smile Politely: Can you speak a bit about the history of the event? How did this all come together?

Janet Soesbe: In 2003, I was one of several community members that worked with Krannert Center for the Performing Arts staff on the Jazz Threads project. The keystone of the project was an artist’s residency by Cecil Bridgewater, but many other activities were planned and so many of them were interactive. One of the topics that came out of all those discussions was broadening the audience for jazz in our community. We talked about non-traditional venues and I instantly thought of one of the district’s greatest resources — the Wandell Sculpture Garden. The timing didn’t work for the Bridgewater project, but it kept me thinking about developing a new event — our first Jazz Walk was in 2005. That Jazz Walk was just after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, so we took donations for the Red Cross’ relief efforts. Because budgets are getting tighter and tighter, we’ll be taking donations this year, but they will go towards paying the musicians. We’ll have the ability to take credit cards, too!

SP: Anything new this year for those that are returning?

Soesbe: We have a few new performers this year: the Sharon Cho Combo is a five-piece group with vocals featuring University of Illinois music students. They’re all in different years of their studies. We also have long-time locals Rick Kubetz and Terry Bush, who have never played a Jazz Walk before. Seth Anders is going to play solo saxophone — he’s in Carnivàle Debauche, among other groups. In the park, we’ve got two new sculptures since our last event: “Diamonds are Forever,” by Pat McDonald and “Connectors,” by Micki LeMieux. They are both along the path where the musicians will be placed.

Another new thing is our lighting. In the past, I’ve always made paper bag luminaries with candles and used tiki torches next to each music group. When I was planning the event back in July, I was really worried about the drought and was concerned about safety in the prairie. So this year, we’ll have battery-operated tea lights in the bags and LED lanterns at each music station. So I’m not only being safe, I’m being greener with supplies that I can use year after year.

SP: What would you say is the range of music that guests can expect at the Jazz Walk?

Soesbe: We’ve got a bit of everything: standards, Latin jazz, gypsy jazz, Dixieland, hard bop, swing, jazz-funk, free improv — you name it! A few of the combos are bigger groups with electricity, but most are not powered.

SP: What acts are you most looking forward to personally?

Soesbe: I really can’t pick favorites! The best thing about this event is the feel of the whole night. The park, with the tall prairie grasses at this time of year, holds sound in a magical way. You’ll listen to a group for a bit and then wander down the path to the next group. As one fades away, you can just hear the next group. Every once in a while, a breeze carries the sound of a trumpet across the prairie and it’s as clear as a bell. The fact that we have 10 different groups placed all along the paths means there’s something for everyone. Some are right next to sculptures, and some are tucked along the path where there are grasses or wildflowers. Combine that with whatever the sky decides to do and you’ve got a feast for both your eyes and ears.

SP: How do you feel this event fits into the overall goals of the Urbana Park District?

Soesbe: I think it fits very well. We feature supremely talented local musicians, we are introducing folks to the visual arts with the sculptures, exposing them to the natural environment of the prairie, and we keep ’em moving by having the acts stationed all along the 3/4 mile-long Sculpture Garden paths. It’s a free event that perfectly blends our many program areas: the arts, the environment, and wellness. Plus, it’s perfect for people of all ages. We’ll have many families out with kids and dogs, not to mention many of the residents of one of the sponsors, Clark-Lindsey Village. They host one of the performers and have coffee and cookies during the event. They also hire a balloon artist who’s amazing.

SP: Any logistical details our readers should be aware of?

Soesbe: This is a walk, so be sure to wear comfy shoes. The temperature can change a lot depending on if you’re out in the sun (and I hope we have sun) at the high point of the walk by “Balencia” or if you’re in the low point of the walk by “Fluke” and along the bank of the McCullough Creek — so wear a jacket. There is parking in the two lots for the park with overflow parking at the Stone Creek Church lot on the corner of Windsor Road and Race Street. If weather is questionable, we’ll decide whether or not we need to postpone to the next night by 4:00 p.m. on that day. We’ll post it on Facebook, put it on our website, and update our Sports & Event hotline at (217) 367-9575.

SP: Finally, for fun, what would you say is your favorite sculpture at Meadowbrook Park?

Soesbe: “Tango,” by Larry Young will always be a favorite. Aesthetically, it’s gorgeous. It’s also a permanent piece that the district owns. Many local folks helped raise money for the district to purchase it, including appx. $5,000 from a fundraiser by the Tango Society of Central Illinois. It’s a perfect example of what I love about working for the Urbana Park District and all the people that make our community great!




This event is free and open to the public Friday, September 7, and begins at 5:30 p.m. In the case of rain, Jazz Walk will be held the following evening beginning at 5:30 p.m. More details are available on the Urbana Park District website.

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