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A Free Outdoor Jazz Festival Swings The Doors Open In Hingetown

With its high blue skies, comfortable temperatures, clambakes and promises of a Super Bowl season for the Browns, it’s hard to imagine how September in Northeast Ohio could possibly be better—though a free outdoor jazz festival might be a nice start.

Wish granted. Make way for the inaugural Hingetown Jazz Festival Saturday, Sept. 2.

The fun begins at 4:30 p.m. on the patio at BOP STOP with the Jackie Warren/Sammy DeLeon Trio. At 5 p.m., saxophonist Johnny Cochran brings a trio to the patio behind Jukebox while North High Brewing gets into the act with a quartet led by young saxophonist Max Schlenk setting up in the parking 5:30 p.m. Round two begins at Jukebox at 6 p.m. with Theron Brown’s Trio while the Tommy Lehman Quartet takes the stage at North High at 6:30 p.m. The final performances of the day will be at BOP STOP starting with a quartet led by Jamey Haddad at 7 p.m. and Vanessa Rubin’s sunset set beginning at 8:15 p.m.

If this sounds like a balmier analogue to New York’s walkable, wildly popular, multi-venue Winter Jazzfest, you’re on the right track.

Dan Bruce“I’m on the board of the Music Fund now, and we were just talking about having a festival that’s super local-focused and using venues of the neighborhood,” said guitarist and bandleader Dan Bruce about a conversation he had with Amber Rogers, the executive director of the fund. “After a while she called me and was like, ‘Hey, I think I got this grant. Do you want to do this?’ and I said, ‘Sure, let’s do this.”

Bruce spent some years in Chicago where the Chicago Jazz Festival, a four-day free event in Millennium Park, has been a Labor Day weekend tradition for years. He also cited the Heights Music Hop on Lee Road as an inspiration. “It was really cool to play,” Bruce said, “and that gave me a lot of ideas. I wanted to add something that, yes, is a festival, but also brings local people’s attention to Cleveland’s jazz scene.”

Amber RogersFor Rogers, a violist who initiated the series of livestreamed concerts that helped keep musicians busy—and sane—when venues were closed during pandemic lockdowns, a free outdoor festival was a natural fit. “It is reflective of a lot of the kind of programming that I’ve tried to do with the Music Fund in terms of giving local artists and ensembles a platform to perform and making it accessible for both the musicians and the audience,” she said by phone.

Accessibility is just one of the advantages of locating the festival in the compact, vibrant Hingetown neighborhood. “I initially was thinking, oh, it’d be really cool to do this and pick a different neighborhood every year,” Bruce said. “But I also think it’s such a nice tight-knit couple of blocks with so many potential venues. This might just be the perfect fit.”

Time will tell, of course, but the intention is to make this a recurring event. If it happens, that will be good for the neighborhood, good for the jazz-loving or jazz-curious audience and good for the music’s health in the NEO region.

“Maybe some of these venues will have some more jazz in the future,” Bruce said. “I think anything that helps get a little more awareness of what’s actually here and get people a little more used to like going out to see stuff is what we need to do.”

Hingetown Jazz Festival, Saturday, Sept. 2, 4:30 p.m. at BOP STOP, 2920 Detroit Ave., Jukebox 1404 W 29th St. and North High Brewing, 2721 Vermont Ave. Cleveland. Free.