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Champions of Jazz

Bill Allred (left) and this year's guest of honor, John Allred (his son), are performing at the Roswell Jazz Festival.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

The 13th annual Roswell Jazz Festival brings in new faces and fan-favorites

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

This year’s 13th annual Roswell Jazz Festival takes place at seven locations from Oct. 17 to 20. A detailed description about the events and artists is available at roswelljazz.org.

It all started in the aftermath of the terrifying days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. People were trying to find shelter and leave the drowned city, among them was legendary jazz pianist and Pulitzer Prize nominee Roger Dickerson.

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While the art communities of metropolitan cities such as New York and Los Angeles offered safe haven to many of the celebrity performers, Roswell’s own, Frank and Carole Schlatter, opened up their home to Dickerson, who had called his old friend Frank Schlatter. Both became friends while serving in the military overseas.

The first small festival was organized with the help of several Roswell jazz fans in 2006, such as the late Roswell Daily Record publisher Cory Beck, a jazz fan; Michael Francis, musician and editor of the Vision Magazine at the Roswell Daily Record at the time and member of the board of directors of the newly formed festival; organizer Paula Grieves; the late Frank Schlatter, the late Hugh Burrows, pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Roswell and musician and singer Tom Blake — all were original supporters of the festival.

Dickerson himself had returned to New Orleans to help clean up, to return later in November 2005 — according to the Roswell Daily Record archives — when he volunteered his musical skills and teamed with the Roswell Museum and Art Center for a benefit for the Louisiana Children’s Museum and young victims of Hurricane Katrina. In February 2006 he rejoined the community to perform at the first Jazz festival benefitting the survivors of Katrina, promising to return every year.

True to his word, Dickerson is returning to Roswell, a city which is known today for its annual jazz festival and champions of jazz perform.

This year, the festival is going to be even bigger with seven venues and 28 artists performing.

Francis, who is volunteering as Roswell Jazz Festival’s artistic director, is looking forward to the events. “We’ve changed our format a little bit this year,” he said. “We’ll have two shows in each venue on Thursday, Friday and Saturday; we’re going to turn the house. We are starting early doing two shows and there’s an hour between the shows. We are going to do a dinner show at Pecos Flavors (Winery + Bistro) and Peppers (Grill and Bar).” Francis adapted the schedule because in previous years some of the events took place at the same time, this year the audience doesn’t have to choose and can visit all.

“Our prices for tickets have been reduced,” Francis said. “We try to make it accessible, especially for kids. We want young people to attend.” A special treat for young fans is the annual School of Jazz at RMAC. “Unfortunately, Goddard and Roswell High are unable to attend. The two high schools have been invited to Albuquerque for some sort of contest so they are both going to be out. We’ve got the Eastern New Mexico University-Portales band at that venue and then they are going to do a concert at Reischman Park, which is located at 234 N. Main St. It’s address is wrong on some maps.

“Back to the School of Jazz: We’re going to have a panel of judges and instructors — they will interact with the students and the concert people will play a tune or two from their book and then they’ll go back and individually work with them,” Francis said. There will be a variety of instruments to look at up close. “We’ll have some of the world class guys there,” Francis said. “I believe, Holly Hofmann, Ricky Malichi, Dan Barrett, Charles Gordon and Dickerson.”

Another highlight for the children happens on Thursday. “Thursday, we’re doing an outreach, Francis said. We go to the high schools and one middle school. We love doing that. That’s myself, Houston Person, Barrett, Erik Unsworth, Malichi and Chuck Redd. We have fun doing that. Kids love it. Even if their band isn’t there, we can still present it to the high school. One of the kids might get interested in it, that’s the idea.”

The scheduling and organizing of the event takes a lot of work, but Francis had extra help sponsoring the event. “I like to give those guys a plug, because we couldn’t do it without the outside support. It cost a lot of money to fly these people in,” he said. “This year we are really encouraged about the sponsorships. Xcel Energy is sponsoring both shows on Thursday night.

Saturday, Connie Harrell, Property Manager of 400 Penn Plaza, her building. They are sponsoring Saturday.”

Some of the events are free, such as performances at the Chaves County Courthouse and at Reischman Park.

The guest of honor is this year John Allred. “The guest of honor is usually on Saturday night, this time it’s on Friday at the courthouse. His dad, Bill Allred, is coming. That’s going to be so cool because he’s been a big name for years and years. When he found out that John is going to be guest of honor, he couldn’t refuse. They do some things together. We have one set we’re calling “Dem Bones” from that song “Dem Bones” and that’s the trombones,” Francis said and laughed.

“Dem Bones” is a spiritual. The melody was composed by author and songwriter James Weldon Johnson. Some sources also credit his brother, J. Rosomond Johnson. First recorded by The Famous Myers Jubilee Singers in 1928, the tunes and later on cartoons with dancing skeletons became popular for Halloween shows.

“The mayor is going to speak when we honor John and our VIP guest is Margaret Gillman,” Francis said. “Margaret is the force behind the Midland/Odessa jazz  party. That’s the oldest jazz festival in the country. They’ve been going for 52 years. She has just retired from there so she is not ramrodding it anymore.

“One of our founders passed away — Hugh Burrows — he was the minister at First Presbyterian Church where we hold our meetings. They are real supportive. He moved to California, he hadn’t been with us for three to four years. Roger is going to say a few words honoring him at the courthouse,” Francis said.

After having to skip two years, Eddie Erickson returns to perform. “He got fans here that will go crazy over him,” Francis said and laughed.

“We appreciate the community’s support because it’s been better than ever. Come out and listen to why Roswell is on the map nationwide on jazz festivals,” Francis said.

The father and son team Bill and John Allred

John Allred’s father, Bill Allred, has never been in Roswell before. In a phone interview he talked about his family and his son being this year’s guest of honor. “I am so excited about that. I am very proud for him,” he said.

“My father was born in 1895, he was a pianist and did some work on the Mississippi riverboats, which is historically very good and fits right in with what I do. He played piano, banjo and guitar. My father died when I was very young. Anything I recall is through my sister who is older, but he said the reason to take his guitar with him is because a lot of the pianos on those boats were not in great shape.”

Asked if he ever had challenges choosing his music style, Bill Allred said, “I’ve been really lucky. I’ve always embraced all styles of music. I think going back, any young person needs to do that. When I do clinics and teaching — which I do a little bit more now — I always tell the kids, ‘Look, you might not like this music, but at least listen to it, it’s part of your musical bag of tricks.’

“I like country, jazz, modern jazz and dixieland, now, being a trombone player I always tend to the dixie category a lot, back in my hometown of Rock Island, Illinois. I embrace it, I really respect the early beginnings of jazz. I play it, I plaid it for years.”

Bill Allred played trombone at Rock Island High School, in the U.S. Navy Band, and at St. Ambrose College. In 1971, Bill auditioned for the position of staff musician at the new Walt Disney World attraction in Orlando, Florida. He was chosen as one of the original 200 staff musicians from over 2,500 auditioned.

In 1974, Bill’s next stop was at Rosie O’Grady’s in Orlando, Florida where he organized the Goodtime Jazz Band and produced the world-famous Goodtime Show. Bill Allred remained at Rosie O’Grady’s for over 15 years serving as Entertainment Director and Band Leader. Bill’s production efforts have been rewarded by many accolades, among them, the coveted Carbonel award given by Florida Entertainment writers for excellence in show production. In 1991 Bill accepted an offer to return to Walt Disney World as a staff musician. In addition to Disney, he continued to head up his own entertainment production company in Orlando and additionally found time for traveling, performing and recording throughout the US and in Europe.

His jazz performances have taken him to the major jazz festivals and concerts in the United States and abroad. Bill has appeared in concerts with Jack Teagarden, Billy Butterfield, Al Hirt, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Mel Torme, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Snooky Young, Ross Tomkins, Bob Cooper, Milt Hinton, Bob Haggart, Butch Miles, Tom Saunders, Chuck Hedges and countless other jazz personalities from all over the world.

For some years, Bill Allred was a member of the Wild Bill Davison Jazz Band, traveling to festivals and concerts worldwide.

Asked if he thought that it is easier for young musicians to make a name because of the multi-media, Bill Allred said, “I think it’s very, very difficult for a younger musician today. Years ago, you would sit at home and the phone would be ringing (with offers), but today it’s not so readily now.

“I moved to Orlando (Florida) in 1971 and in that time period every hotel had a lounge and in that lounge was usually a band of some kind. It could have been jazz, rock, show bands, there was — I was call that, especially in Orlando — the glory days. My goodness, I could have worked night and day and that was great. But it has changed,” Bill Allred said.

When Bill Allred’s son grew up, John Allred showed talent right from the start. “I saw that and I was so delighted because that is not always the case,” Bill Allred said. “He came home one night and said, ‘Dad, I want to get into a band.’ This was going in the 6th grade. He said, ‘I need to play a horn, would you mind if I play trombone?’ I told him that I’d be delighted. He did this and it was apparent that he would be really good at it. He was in the band, but he still wanted to go fishing, skateboarding, things like that — and that was fine — but more and more he was working on things in the band. All through high school he progressed and this was really the beginnings.”

John Allred was ready to go further, but needed advice from his father, who said that he would have supported any of his choices. “He said, ‘I just want to play,’ Bill Allred said. “This was a very lucky moment in his life. Disney had a young show band / jazz band out of Disneyland in Anaheim and the trombone player wanted to leave and go to school. I took him up to Disney here and they hired him immediately and sent him to Anaheim. He was out there for perhaps four to five years, playing full time. It was just the little chances that happened, it happened to me too. He just went right into the business and learned it so well and from then on he went on the road with Woody Hermann a couple of years, chuckling. It was great. He was headlong into the business.”

Later on, father and son performed together at jazz festivals and on jazz cruises. “We joke about it — being a family band — but it makes me feel great. I am sure John enjoys it and I think the people do: father and son playing this nice music. We are looking forward to this (performing at the Roswell Jazz Festival) definitely, but it’s been a while since we’ve done it so I’m really anxious. I’ve never been in Roswell, period. I am very excited and also interested in alien life, Bill Allred said and laughed. “We were talking the other day and John said, ‘Dad you’re an old Trekkie.’ But it’s the people out there and doing the festival he is excited about and I am as well.”

For more information, visit billallred.com and billallred.com/classicjazzband/bio_johnallred.php.

Mary Ann McSweeney

A new jazz is developing in New York City and part of this development is bass player Mary Ann McSweeney who is performing for the first time in Roswell. McSweeney’s life could have taken her to a very different path if it wouldn’t have been for her aunt and teachers.

“My mom was a violinist, pianist, singer and so there was music in the house all the time. I started playing piano when I was five and then I started violin. I added that when I was in elementary school. I played those instruments a lot. I was very dedicated. Jazz was not really in my house. My mom is not a jazz fan, but my dad was. He used to love Cal Tjader. Once in a while I would get to hear that, but my aunt, when I was in middle school, she gave me Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Pass, Ray Brown, these albums and I loved it. My violin teacher was also a bass player so he asked me if I would like to play bass in a jazz band in middle school. I started doing that and I loved it, but my mother was horrified,” McSweeney said and laughed. “Her daughter’s gone wild. That wasn’t a thing you did as a girl. It was not a girl instrument (bass), so I ended up, just saying, ‘It’s a hobby.’ When I went to high school, my band director in high school handed me the the upright bass. The minute I played that thing, I felt, ‘this is amazing.’ and at the same time I am working on a concerto on the piano.

“It was kind of wild. I was practicing three hours a day and I was thinking I was going on the track like a classical concert pianist,” McSweeney said.

“My band director took me to a jazz concert at the Concord Jazz Festival in California and I went with him and his family. I saw Ray Brown play. I could not believe it. I grew up in the classical world, where you are very proper, you don’t talk on stage it’s very quiet, you are wearing the same thing, it is very uniform and I saw these guys yelling at each other,” she said and laughed. “It was almost as if they were telling jokes while they are playing. I couldn’t believe it. I went backstage and I couldn’t believe the banter. I was probably 12 or 13 years old when I saw this concert. It really made an impression on me and I wanted to play the bass all the time, but I had to kind of hide it. I brought that big bass home and still said, ‘It’s a hobby.’ It was hard. I went to my violin and piano lessons all the time, practiced all the time, but when I was in school we took albums and I listened to them on lunch break. My band director knew all these amazing musicians from Los Angeles and brought them up to my home town in Santa Cruz. That made a huge impression on me too. I couldn’t believe the sound and how much fun they were having. That’s the beginning.”

McSweeney let her family know in the second year in college that she would pursue a jazz and classical bass major. Thanks to her band director who sent her with the band to perform outside, she continued making money and put herself through college.

“I got lucky,” McSweeney said. “Not only was my first piano teacher amazing, she encouraged not only classical music, hard work and hard practice, but she had me composing at a very young age. By the time I was 8 I had a book of compositions. Throughout my early years I was able to compose. My band director encouraged this. It was very rare to pass in a big band in high school as a female and out of this group came a all-female quartet called The Satin Dolls and that’s how we did gigs, as The Satin Dolls. The first song was ‘The Satin Dolls,’ of course.”

McSweeney said that she enjoys all jazz, but after a trip to Portugal and serendipitously discovering that her ancestors are from Portugal, she is infusing her jazz with Portuguese Fado music. Her new CD is called Urban Fado.

“Especially in New York — there is some traditional jazz here — jazz is going into another direction with other influences,” McSweeney said. “To me, jazz is under a huge umbrella now. I like the traditional stuff, but then I like to move it around and combine. I have sitar in one of my jazz albums (the sitar is an Indian stringed instrument). I’ve been working with this amazing violinist Sara Caswell. She is one of the rising stars in downbeat, she plays in my urban fado band and we improvise, it’s really cool. I try to bring in different aspects since I was a violinist.

“I have never been in Roswell. I only know it from the map and that there were some aliens or something,” McSweeney said. “Wow, Roswell. There must be something in the water that they like jazz there, that’s wonderful. I can’t wait to meet everybody and be in Roswell. I am excited. I know some of the musicians and played with some of them. A couple of them are old friends. Chuck Redd and I met at the jazz party in Newport Oregon. He is amazing. That is another good thing about music and I do tell our students about it. When you meet somebody in high school, that could be your person that you play with for many years to come. You just never know.”

Asked what she will perform, McSweeney laughed and said, “I am playing with a whole bunch of groups. I have no idea what they want to do. Jazz is a language, and we will play together because of the common language and figure out what to play. It might be in the moment or people bring charts. I might bring some things, a couple things that are really fun. I am on a huge Charles Mingus trip right now and I might bring some Mingus tunes that are easy and fun to jam on.”

The entire schedule is published in the Oct. 14 edition of the Roswell Daily Record.

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