The lights were glowing, the crowd was excited and even the A train, passing overhead with windows lit, beat out an evening rhythm as Rockaway launched its first jazz festival last September. The event was so successful that now organizers are tuning up for the new Rockaway Beach Jazz Festival 2015. The free music fest will take place on Saturday, Sept. 5, from 6 to 10 p.m. on the boardwalk at Beach 97th Street.
It will feature top-flight jazz bands like Lisa Parrott’s Round Tripper, Gowanus Reggae & Ska Society (G.R.A.S.S.) and Flying Home.
It is sponsored by Rockaway Beach 97, Local Office Landscape Architecture and Uma’s Restaurant.
Musician and co-creator Tim Otto took some time to talk to The Wave about what is now becoming an annual event.
“The festival got started through the first Jazz Nights at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club. I started doing monthly jazz nights about fall 2013 and spring 2014 with my regular band, Free Ride.
The lineup of musicians was always changing so the band would be a little different each time.
The nights were pretty successful in that we often got a really good crowd at the club. And all the musicians I brought in to play there just loved playing there – the vibe of the club, the whole scene of the community really appreciating the quality of the music and players and everything.”
What was the reaction to those jazz shows?
“The audiences in Rockaway have been great and very supportive,” Otto said, “coming out to a host of shows to show their support for great jazz and the musicians that play it. And they’ve wanted more.”
The response was so good that it wasn’t long before Otto and others were talking about putting together the first Rockaway jazz festival.
“Last year’s festival at the Surf Club was really well attended. And it proves that there’s definitely an audience that really wants to listen to great jazz – as good as anything you’ll hear in the traditional jazz hot spots of Manhattan, and more recently Brooklyn.”
Otto explains, “That got me thinking that maybe it was time to bring to Queens some of the many other bands and musicians playing creative jazz I know to play at Rockaway Beach.”
Putting it together was the next task. “I’m lucky,” he says, “to have played with and gotten to know many incredible and world renowned jazz players over the last 25 years of playing in NYC. So I’m tapping into my pool of musicians to create what I hope will be an ongoing beachside jazz festival for the city.
If you look at some of the really famous jazz festivals in the U.S. like Newport or Monterey, well in my own little world, I’d like to think that we could do the same here – and you can get to it by the subway! Starting small, but thinking long-term and hoping it builds and takes on a life of its own eventually.”
What about this year’s festival?
“I’m really excited to have the festival on the boardwalk this year. It’s on one of the busiest weekends of the summer, Labor Day weekend, on Saturday.
I want the music to be as accessible to as many people as possible, and there’s no better place than the boardwalk to do that.”
Otto offered his thanks to Michelle Warner and the concessions at Beach 97th Street for hosting the event.
As far as the festival line-up, Otto notes that it “is pretty diverse and covers a wide array of jazz styles – from Lisa Parrot with a classic trio of alto sax, bass and drums; to the Gowanus Reggae & Ska Society playing a mix of jazz infused grooves full of improvisation, to finally the group Flying Home; playing the music of the classic Benny Goodman small group repertoire.
I think those bands cover a huge range of jazz tastes, and hopefully listeners will be exposed to something different that they may not normally be exposed to.”
Any further thoughts on this second annual festival?
Yes, he says, “I hope to see everyone there on Sept. 5!”