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Free to Be

Novices and experts get down at the SLC International Jazz Festival.



I long ago set aside my perception of jazz music as a tool for older men sitting by the fireplace trying to seduce younger women with wine and a compilation of smooth hits from the ’60s and ’70s. I’ve begun to realize that not all jazz necessarily leads to such a compromising situation and so it was with this newfound clarity that I attended last weekend’s Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival.

Free is a wonderful word to poverty-stricken ears, especially when it comes to entertainment. This inspired not one, but two days at Washington Square.

The initial idea was, while babysitting, I would take the music-loving youngster with me. This unfortunately lead to the comedic setback of spending almost a full half an hour in my driveway trying to figure out how to strap a child into a stroller.

I convinced myself that he would somehow slip out of the stroller if he was not straitjacketed in. I later found that to be a paranoid delusion since motor skills are not a weak spot for most humans, even babies. I vow to this day never to mock anyone for not being able to figure out the complex enigma that is the stroller seatbelt.

One of the many apprehensions of summer outdoor activities is that they always seem to fall on the hottest, sweatiest day of the year, when hoards of people stand around miserably, soaked in (hopefully) their own sweat. Luckily, the entertainment started after 5 p.m., allotting plenty of time for Jazzassery and sitting inside an air-conditioned house while the heat waned.

When I arrived for the Jazzathon weekend, my initial judgment of jazz rang true with an off-the-charts older-gentlemen-to-younger-females ratio. Something about that sultry, lust-filled sound draws perfectly lovely 20-35 year-old women into Just For Men users’ arms. Go figure.

My Saturday festival experience started with Diane Schuur & Salt Lake City Jazz Orchestra, whom I found to be very Jazztastic. The setup was such that you did not feel like you had to walk five miles to get to one stage only to realize you were at the incorrect one and have to heat-exhaust your way back from whence you came. There was also ample seating and the crowds responded by neither stampeding nor complaining loudly over funky saxophones.

On the second day, I did not rest. I went straight back for more. The crowds were in full force on this last day and the weather was again tolerable.

I took in the soothing flute sounds of Fathead Newman & Company, wandered the perimeter contemplating the mystery of why you had to stand in line to purchase tickets, then stand in a separate line to use those tickets to purchase beer.

A “Eureka!” moment struck. I had been pondering this conundrum for years. Maybe you geniuses have figured this out by now, but I finally realized that, if you wait in line to purchase tickets, you are not going to want to wait in line to do it again, so you will purchase as many tickets as possible to avoid doing it again. Every perilous festival/concert boils down to making more money. Just a theory, everyone. Correct me if I am wrong.

By 9:30 p.m., everyone’s jazz hands were exhausted, so it was a relief to see Big Bad Voodoo Daddy making their way onstage to play swing music. Apparently this was the act that everyone was anticipating as the crowd went wild with seat dancing peppered with Jazzercising.

I’m no music nerd, but what the hell was a swing band doing at a jazz festival? My much-more-learned peers shook their heads in that “Oh sweet, stupid Dominique! Swing is a form of Jazz” way. In any case, it was a jazzy, mind-opening experience.

This was the 7th annual festival and I hope it continues as it was free, fun family- and/or friend-oriented entertainment'and so long as you can figure out how a stroller works, you’re golden.