Contributor’s note: Elsewhere on the site one will find a bit of the history on how the Juvae Jazz Society was brought into being; credit for that information is righty given to the late great Bob Fallstrom who wrote the piece for a CIJF program. The reader may note there is a twenty year difference between the ages of CIJF and Juvae. The following piece was taken from an album cover (an LP, remember those!) for a recording produced in 1976 during a CIJF concert at the then Decatur Holiday Inn. The dissertation may have been written by Jim Taylor who produced the recordings, but there is no definitive verification. Here’s what it says:
The idea of a Central Illinois Jazz Festival was conceived in September 1975, when Pete and his wife, along with several people from the Indianapolis Jazz Club, the Illiana Jazz Club, the St. Louis Jazz Club and several local jazz buffs were gathered in the dining room at the Holiday Inn of Decatur. It was Sunday evening, and they had collected there after one of Pete’s jazz events (a two-day festival in Arcola, Illinois, produced in conjunction with the 28th Annual Broom Corn Festival) to hear Monte Mountjoy’s fine jazz quartet, The Misfits. In the course of the conversation regarding the Arcola festival and the fine jazz being presented by Monte’s swinging group, Dieter Schulz, the Manager and Innkeeper where all this was taking place, enthusiastically indicated that he would like to do a large-scale three-day jazz festival there, and that the Holiday Inn of Decatur would underwrite the entire affair. “I’m willing to chance it,” Schulz enthused, “and the only way to determine if an event of this nature will succeed is to give it a good try.”
A few weeks later, at Dieter’s instigation, a meeting was attended by Schulz, Monte and Jo Mountjoy, Jerry and Nancy Roucher of the Decatur Arts Council, and Pete and Albertine George. After considerable planning and working out the necessary details, Pete was “authorized” to produce the festival with the assistance of the Decatur Arts Council and the management of the Holiday Inn of Decatur. The dates were set for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, January 30-31 and February 1, 1976.
The next step, and perhaps the most important, was to contact and assemble sufficient all-star musicians and outstanding jazz groups to present a four-session festival of such proportions as to attract the nation’s fans; and in scanning the personnel of the splendid groups presented in these two great albums, it would appear that Pete did that job well.
Then there was the tremendous task of spreading the work – contacting jazz publications, the many jazz clubs throughout the nation, jazz disc-jockeys who lean toward the traditional styles, the many influential people who could help in publicizing the festival and countless letters announcing the affair to a very long mailing list – in hope that the response would be properly rewarding.
Let it be said that the response was, indeed, far better than is usually anticipated for an initial festival of this kind. Those wonderful, loyal jazz buffs came to Decatur from everywhere – Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Maryland, So. Carolina, Florida, Wes Virginia, Washington D.C., Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and maybe a few other States which were not listed on the attendance sheets.
On Saturday night, Milt Gabler sat listening intently as the Tom Saunders-Bob Hirsch All-Stars, with Jerry Fuller playing Clarinet, started the evening’s third set. He had arrived from New York on Friday and had checked in for the duration of the jazz weekend. “Just about 50 years, I guess,” Gabler answered quietly when a reporter asked him how long he has followed jazz. He went on to explain he had become interested in jazz at the age of 15 and that a few years later he installed a record department in his father’s New York City radio shop. That record department soon grew into the Commodore Music Shop, destined to become the best known and most internationally famous record store in the world. Later, Gabler formed the legendary Commodore Records Company, which was the first and the finest independent record company to produce jazz, and in 1935 he began promoting jazz concerts in New York City.
“The seeds we planted 40 years ago, with concerts to popularize jazz are blossoming again,” Gabler stated, “because as of just a few years ago, it has started all over again. Certainly the traditional forms of jazz are once more enjoying a resurging popularity – and thanks to Pete George and the dedicated people here in Decatur who staged this festival, it is one of the most exciting and interesting jazz events I have even attended. It should be encouraging for the musicians who play our kind of jazz professionally, because it begins to look as though there might soon be enough festival and concert bookings across the land to provide extensive work. I mention this because as far as I know, the first meeting toward reciprocal association of Jazz Clubs was held today right here in Decatur, Illinois…..and it was demonstrated by this highly successful festival. I am reminded of the old United Hot Clubs of America at the beginning of the Swing Era – except that there are vastly more clubs in existence now. It’s great – and the press – the slicks and the pulps alike – along with radio and T-V must be made considerably more aware of this growing interest in Traditional and Dixieland jazz.”
It was also rewarding to discover that the musicians all seemed to enjoy the festival every bit as much as the fans. Without an exception, they were excitedly enthusiastic about the excellent performances played by their colleagues, many of whom they have the opportunity to hear only occasionally at festivals or concerts.
“You’ve started what is unquestionable one of the important jazz festivals in the United States,” pianist Bob Hirsch enthused on Sunday afternoon. “This beautiful Holiday Inn is ideal for such an event because of the tremendous facilities offered to help insure its complete success – and that’s really important,” he reasoned. “However, you do have one small problem,” Hirsch mused, “I don’t know where you’re going to put them all next year after the word gets around. – but I’m sure that can be worked out, as you seem to have considerably more room than is now being used, despite the sizeable attendance at this one.”
But perhaps the greatest praise of all came from clarinetist Jerry Fuller. “Absolutely beautiful,” Fuller declared in his quiet forthright manner. “It has been the most rewarding three days of my entire musical career – and that includes the great times I had during my four years on the Teagarden band. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the Tom Saunders-Bobby Hirsch All-Star group. It was a fine band – but then, every band here is absolutely great! I must confess I thought the Swingtet was outstanding” Jerry continued. “We have never before played so superbly as we did here” he stated seriously.
“It was fantastic, the manner in which we responded to Ulrich’s magnificent piano work. He is undoubtedly the greatest. Actually, I’ve never had a musical experience to equal the two beautiful Swingtet sets we played here at this festival, and I’m delighted to have been a part of its obvious success.”
Early in the planning stage it was decided that each year the Central Illinois Jazz Festival would be dedicated to the memory of one of the legendary jazz figures, and at the suggestion of Mrs. Mountjoy, it was agreed that the initial festival be declared a tribute to the beloved Jack Teagarden. In opening the festival on Friday night, Master of Ceremonies Pete George paid homage to “Big T” in a fitting tribute to the acknowledged stature of that great trombonist who so profoundly influenced the course of jazz music for all generations to follow.
To proclaim the First Annual Central Illinois Jazz Festival an unqualified success would be putting it mildly, and every single individual who had any part in it is to be complimented for their efforts. On Saturday night, when Deiter Schulz announced from the stage that the festival would be presented again on February 4-5-6, 1977, the crowd shouted its enthusiastic approval.
“Big T” would have enjoyed this festival. There was an abundance of the kind of music he loved…and played. We hope that you, too, enjoy some of the great jazz which occurred onstage at the First Annual Central Illinois Jazz Festival, and which we present on these two splendid albums. Even if you were there, it will be nice to hear it again…and again…for your unending pleasure. If you enjoy the albums but were not there last year – now is the time to insure that you won’t miss the exhilarating experience of “being there” this year!
Pete George looked about the semi-darkened ballroom of the Holiday Inn of Decatur, Illinois where the initial session of the First Annual Central Illinois Jazz Festival was in full swing. Glancing from table to table in the well-appointed room, he mused more to himself than to anyone in particular, “I’m absolutely amazed! Look at this crowd…and on a Friday night, too! You can actually feel the enthusiasm,” he continued, “and what do you think it will be like tomorrow afternoon and tomorrow night…and there’s also Sunday afternoon yet to go!”
“You know,” he said to friends at the table, “it’s pretty well established that jazz fans are an intensely loyal group of dedicated individuals, who will travel great distances and spend substantial sums of money in order to hear and enjoy their kind of music – but only if they are convinced that what you have promised them is good – and judging from the wide grins and happy expressions on the many faces here tonight, I’d say this festival is off to a smashing success.”