Curtain rises on Jazz Plus tonight
The music of John Fogerty, Sheryl Crow, the Gipsy Kings and more than a dozen other performers will engulf the Plaza this weekend, filling the town with sounds of celebration from the Jazz Plus Festival. Mixed in among the Grammy award-winners will be the student musicians of Sonoma, many of whom will be playing instruments funded by the festival.
When the late Valley resident James Pugash founded the festival seven years ago, he did it not only to bring the likes of Tony Bennett, Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker to Sonoma, he also did it so Sonoma students would have access to quality music education and equipment. The organization funds the repair and replacement of equipment, guest teachers and programs, including annual musicals at the middle schools, drumming classes at the elementary level and scholarships to music camps and colleges for high school students.
"We're very happy to be able to do what we do," said Jim Horowitz, executive producer of the festival.
The festival not only supports the musicians financially, it also provides multiple platforms for young talent to showcase their skills. The Sonoma Jazz Plus In-Schools Student Band can be heard during Wine and Song, the music series that takes place around the Plaza, at Union Bank on Saturday from 1:30 to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Sonoma Valley High School Jazz Choir will play prior to the opening acts on Friday and Saturday in the festival pavilion at the Field of Dreams.
"It's something they're very excited about," said Barbara McElroy, music teacher at the high school.
Since 2005, the organization has given more than $450,000 to support music education programs. Bob Gossett, education director for Jazz Plus, said the focus this year is finding new ways to keep youths excited about music.
"We were seeing a real depletion in the number of students in the middle school programs and the high school programs. We want to find a way to keep kids in band," he said, adding that a District Music Advisory Committee was formed this year to better work within the school district to develop dynamic music education opportunities. "We're really trying to make it more of a district committee and get parents involved."
One of the new plans is to better unify the education between schools, making a more seamless transition for fifth-graders to carry on in sixth-grade and for eighth-graders to stay involved in high school.
The committee will also review some of the previous programs supported by Jazz Plus to find out if there is a better way to reach more youth.
"We want to make the program viable and thriving to get the numbers up," Gossett said.
Despite changes in programming, the common mission to provide access to music education will continue. Sonoma Valley Unified School District Superintendent Louann Carlomagno called the funding "instrumental" to keeping music programs at the schools during a time of deep budget cuts on the state level.
Horowitz said tickets are still available to all nights of Jazz Plus. John Fogerty, who rose to fame with Creedence Clearwater Revival, kicks things off Friday night. Sheryl Crow takes the stage on Saturday, bringing the popular hits that earned her nine Grammy awards. The Gipsy Kings wrap up the weekend with an early show at 4 p.m. on Sunday, a change from the usual schedule.
"We felt a night time concert on a Sunday night was tough for some people," Horowitz said.
The Wine and Song series returns during the day on Saturday and Sunday - presenting a New Orleans theme complete with a southern brunch on Sunday. The event brings live music performances to various Plaza businesses, and each site is paired with wine, beer or tequila tastes. See the sidebar (below) for a complete list of performers and drink purveyors.
For tickets and more details on the weekend of music, visit www.sonomajazz.org.