It could just be a case of wishful thinking, but the terrific things I’m hearing about this past weekend’s inaugural Hingetown Jazz Festival show what can happen when top-flight musicians, welcoming venues and tireless, community-minded organizers come together to meet audiences where they are. Who wouldn’t be stoked for the future?
And you won’t have to wait to get a glimpse of what that future might look like, because this weekend brings Akron’s annual Rubber City Jazz and Blues Festival Sept. 7-9.
Like its new Cuyahoga County counterpart, RCJBF began as a modest, musician-run event. Musicians are still in charge via Open Tone Music, the nonprofit educational and community uplift organization founded by Akron trombonist Chris Anderson. Yet with more than four dozen performers and groups booked for free and ticketed events at locations both indoors and out, RCJBF is all grown up.
At Akron-area venues such as Baxter’s Speakeasy, BLU Jazz+, Musica, the Mustill Store, Downtown Akron Main Library and the Goodyear Theater, RCJBF will offer a little something for everyone. The lineup of musicians and traditions represented are impressively deep, from the regal vocal stylings of Evelyn Wright to salsa dancing and Latin jazz from firestarter conguero Sammy DeLeon.
On Saturday, festival audiences can hear satiny, neo-soul vocals from Pittsburgh newcomer Erika Denae J (on a ticketed quadruple bill at BLU) and straightahead jazz informed by the seven-decadelong career of drummer Roger Humphries (a free concert at Musica). Young local hotshots like saxophonist Ronell Regis and trumpeter Tommy Lehman get to show what they can do while established musicians such as drummer Carl Allen bring some world-class stardust to the party. Combining the two, Akron guitarist will perform with voices Friday night at the library.
Somewhere between newcomer and veteran status is Cleveland-born saxophonist Jevaughn Bogard, who will kick off the festival Thursday night fronting his Columbus band, Abstract Sounds at a ticketed event that also features youth ensembles from the Open Tone program.
That setting should suit Bogard, who has an inspiring up-from-the-roots story of his own. Diverted from his first love, athletics by medical issues, Bogard, who turned 30 last week, began his musical journey on piano. His CV lists Cleveland School of the Arts, the weekend program at Tri-C and a stint at Oberlin as well as professional gigs beginning when he was 13.
Then five years ago, Bogard quit music. “I’m coming from the Lower East Side of Cleveland where we’re dealing with gun violence. So it was like music is really all I got,” he said by phone. “I feel like I was working with people where music was their second option and music was my only option. And it just didn’t work.”
Bogard moved to Columbus, got a day job and made some money. “I learned how to drive a forklift, which at that time was during COVID,” he said. “A lot of people lost their jobs, and it was so crazy because the job I got was one of the few jobs that didn’t shut down. So when COVID hit and people were losing jobs, I was working overtime.
So now that I look back at it that was the best thing I could ever do. I got myself together.”
Freed of the hustle of the jobbing musician, Bogard’s creativity blossomed, and he formed Abstract Sounds to play the sounds that never left his head. “My goal for Abstract Sounds was to bring back the dance element to jazz music,” Bogard said. “That’s so important. If you start all the way back to like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington and Count Basie, that was dancing, you know?”
These days, the lineup varies from six to eight pieces depending on the context, but for his next project, Bogard is thinking even bigger. He’s writing music for Abstract Sounds with the OPUS 216 String Ensemble. “I planned on doing it this year, but I was worrying about mostly just locking my band,” he said. “But the next goal is to bring the strings along with us and really go hard with the sound, you know, and just keep expanding. Hopefully next year, we do Rubber City.”
Rubber City Jazz and Blues Festival, Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 at indoor and outdoor locations in Akron. Free and ticketed events. Individual tickets and festival passes available here.