“He had never played in the open air at night, and the thrill it gave him was interpreted into the most uncanny phrases of beautiful notes.”
The passage from Hoagy Carmichael’s memoir “Jazzbanders” recounts a time in 1924 Bloomington when local musicians paraded down Third Street past the sororities and fraternities.
“Light cut dimly across a weird assortment of enchanted listeners as a cornet carved passages of heat and beauty in the night,” Carmichael wrote of the midnight serenades in “The Stardust Road.”
Live jazz performances have found a home in familiar Bloomington venues such as Bear’s Place, Café Django and The Player’s Pub.
But none have offered the open air atmosphere of which Carmichael reminisced until local musicians, organizations and sponsors organized the Grant Street Jazz Festival.
The festival, which closed Grant Street between Sixth Street and Kirkwood Avenue on Saturday, offered live jazz performances, food vendors and samplings from a local brewery and winery.
Local musicians MAYO Jazz, the Paul Kirk and Dave Bruker Duo the Craig Brenner and Joe Donnelly Duo, Monika Herzig Trio feat. Janiece Jaffe, Jazz Fable Quintet, Post Modern Jazz Quintet, Café Cubano and IU jazz faculty were featured at the festival.
“This is a great throwback to the 1920s when Hoagy and his friend had jazz parades down Third Street,” said David Brent Johnson, jazz director of WFIU and announcer at the festival. “I think an outdoor jazz festival featuring some of the best performances in the city is a great way to kick off the school year.”
Though Johnson had nothing to do with organizing the event, he was a strong advocate, citing its location and music lineup as factors of its success.
“People can hear the music and just wander in,” he said.
And many did exactly that.
Terry Hood and his wife, Laurie, visited Bloomington from Boston to help move their daughter in for her freshman year. They wandered downtown and were attracted to the sound of the Monika Herzig Trio.
“We knew Bloomington was a great town from college visits in the past, but this has reaffirmed our daughter’s choice in school,” Terry said. “We have plenty of jazz festivals around home, but this rivals the bigger ones.”
He said his family has visited many festivals, including the Berklee BeanTown and Newport jazz festivals, but none offer such an intimate, charged atmosphere, and few are free.
The Grant Street Jazz Festival was a collaboration between Café Django, Jazz from Bloomington, WFIU, Big Woods Brewery, Oliver Winery and Cassady Electric. Admission was free and wine, beer and food was available for purchase.
Linda Eversoll, an owner of Café Django, said the idea for the event had been forming for more than a year, but planning started just three months ago.
“The musicians are always asking me, ‘We should have something nice outside,’” she said. “I started thinking we should have a jazz festival.”
With the help of her husband and restaurant co-owner Adrian Eversoll, Café Django partnered with local musicians to make the event happen.
“I’m amazed it turned out, and I’m just so happy,” Eversoll said, looking out the window of her restaurant to see a band performing and dozens of visitors. “There’s a nice crowd outside, and everyone has a smile on their face. That’s what this is all about.”
Though this year’s inaugural festival was planned in just a few months, Adrian said planning for next year’s festival will begin shortly. Many musicians and vendors said they are hopeful it will turn into an annual event.
“This event has been a long time coming,” David Miller of the Jazz Fables Quintet said before the band’s set. “With the help of our sponsors, we hope to make it possible for all local jazz groups to play outside like this.”
Eversoll is from Peru and said events like the Grant Street Jazz Festival make her proud to be part of the Bloomington community.
“Being from another country and coming to this town and doing something nice for the people here just makes me happy,” she said. “People here are living in tough times, so doing little things like this, it lifts problems from the mind. It seems like people are happy, and I just love it.”