Keep Jazz Alive: Zoot Fest 2015

By Randy Lertdarapong
Web Editor

ESU held the fifth annual Zoot Festival on Nov. 8 at the Innovation Center.

“I’m not the most knowledgeable jazz fan, but I am a jazz fan. I love the music,” said ESU’s president, Dr. Marcia G. Welsh.

She started off the event by welcoming everyone. Her vibrant red attire complemented her passion for the arts.

“Keeping [jazz] alive is important to us, as a university. The Al Cohn collection was donated to the University in 1988, and Zoot Sims’ wife donated his in ’11 and that’s when this whole festival started; to keep the music alive,” Dr. Welsh explained with a radiant smile.

This year’s festival was special because it commemorated 90th birthdays of both Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.

The festival was also held in honor of Rick Chamberlain, Eric Doney and Phil Woods, who all passed away this year.

Both musicians and jazz enthusiast came together to celebrate this art form.

“[Organizing the event was] not as hard as it was last year, because it’s my second year doing it,” Dr. Matt Vashlishan said with laughter. “It was originally a bigger deal because there was a big band involved and a lot of people.”

“One of [the] things we tried to do was strip it down to make it this nice compact and cohesive thing,” said Vashlishan.

He is the director of the Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection (ACMJC) located on the ground floor of ESU’s Kemp Library.

Lew Tabackin and Bill Dobbins, jazz musicians who play tenor saxophone and piano respectively, started the show with a two-piece feature.

The musicians were having a discussion through their instruments with smooth blues melody and harmony, taking turns with solos that were received by applause from the audience.

Dobbins then led the room with an analytical study of Cohn’s piece, titled “The Note.”

With jazz musicians chiming in with commentary on music theories and opinions, Dobbins invited individuals onto the stage for an impromptu discussion board.

The artists on stage reminisced on memories and shared personal stories, many of which were met with laughter from the crowd.

The proceeds of the event went towards the effort to grow the Al Cohn Memorial Collection, which includes many other jazz musicians.

“The jazz collection that we have represents a lot of history of jazz, not just the Poconos, but within the country,” said Welsh.

“Jazz is a unique art form that was cultivated here [in America]. That’s important and it is a very personal, organic type of art form. It’s honest,” said Vashlishan. “The more you hear it, the better it gets, and that is special.”

“We’re going to be moving part of the collection up to the main floor of the library, where there will be a listening room and more appreciation! We’re going to do everything we can to make it more visible for the students,” Welsh enthusiastically explained.

The Poconos offer a variety of jazz culture from the Deer Head Inn to the Celebration of the Arts Festival, which takes place annually in September.

“There is a lot of stuff going on. I would take advantage of it,” said Vashlishan.

“This area is incredibly rich in jazz history because there are so many [jazz musicians] that ended up living here. It’s all right here for you to check out.”

You can visit for more information or to donate towards the preservation and education of jazz.

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