The Litchfield Jazz Festival returns for year 29

Now celebrating its 29th year, The Litchfield Jazz Festival will take place July 26-28 at the Tisch Auditorium and the Bourne Courtyard at the Frederick Gunn School in Washington, Connecticut.

Presented by Litchfield Performing Arts, the festival began as a classical series supplemented with dance and theater and jazz. Executive Director Vita West Muir spent time consulting with jazz gurus like DJ Ken Woods from WPBX Long Island, going to concerts, visiting other festivals in New York and New Orleans, and gathering advice from friends.

As a popular summer destination, Litchfield County sees many visitors eager for entertainment. The summer crowd helped seed the festival’s audience. Early performances featured Marian McPartland and Tony Bennett and were a hit.

One of this year’s more exciting acts includes The Matsiko World Orphan Choir, whose mission is “to transform the lives of our world’s most vulnerable children through a complete education.” The choir is composed of sponsored children from Liberia, Peru, India, and Nepal.

“They came to us through the Amina Figarova Sextet. Amina’s husband and bandmate Bart Platteau sold me the idea. I have served disadvantaged kids since I started Litchfield Performing Arts 43 years ago. Like Matsiko, we raise the funds to help kids. Bart and I connected immediately around shared goals. I have been writing promo stuff for them and this concert in the hope of a large and generous audience who will find it in their hearts to support Matsiko,” Muir explained.

Generally, Muir books all types of jazz with the exception of free jazz. “I love straight ahead, excellent vocals, and all types of Latin,” Muir stated.

The camp is an equally important component of the festivals with students from age 13 and up

“This year we have among our handful of older students an 83-year-old classical clarinet player, a retired doctor I met on a jazz cruise who longs to learn to play jazz. The fest attracts mostly 40 - 60+ plus students of course who are younger,“ Muir noted.

Like many festivals, Covid affected programming, which Muir adapted to by doing live streaming of shows throughout the year. This morphed into a partnership with Mike Gow of the New England Arts and Entertainment at the Poli Club in Waterbury.

“He’s been doing a show about every three weeks for 11 years now and we joined him for 8 additional shows last year including Sunday Jazz Brushes. The show features the first of our competition for young people: The Litchfield Jazz Camp Talent Search, a 16-year-old violinist who is incredibly musical,” Muir explained.

Challenges of producing the festival include coming up with a lineup of excellent musicians who will sell tickets, paying them competitive fees, and attracting audiences to fill the house in a way that is profitable for all involved.

“We don’t count on tickets to cover costs; no one ever does. We fundraise to cover any shortfalls and offer sponsorships for shows. Two of this year’s shows have individuals underwriting them,” Muir stated.

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