Mesilla Jazz Happening celebrates 15 years on the plaza
By Zak Hansen
Las Cruces Bulletin
On the first weekend of each October since 2000, the Mesilla plaza has hosted a weekend of live jazz music, and six years ago, the annual program transferred to fall under the auspices of the Mesilla Valley Jazz and Blues Society (MVJBS), “designed to spread the art form to the wide public that often doesn’t have a lot of exposure to this,” according to the society’s Larry Brooks.
The 15th annual Mesilla Jazz Happening will fill the plaza with three days of live jazz music from some of the area’s finest players Friday through Sunday, Oct. 2-4.
Performers at the happening, as well as the society’s monthly concerts, are of all ages, culled from the ranks of talented local and regional musicians young and old, established as well as up-and-coming.
“(New Mexico State University) has a number of jazz bands that they are fostering and they have a very good music program there, so we feature a lot of their student bands at our meetings and concerts,” Brooks said. “You’ll also find that a lot of their professors are in groups featured Saturday and Sunday at the festival.”
The MVJBS’ reach goes even further than the collegiate level, inviting student musicians from the sixth grade on to hone their skills and perform to a crowd.
“We are trying to get more youth involved,” Brooks said. “A lot of the high schools in fact have programs these days, so we send out publicity to all the music directors in the middle and high schools and the professors at NMSU to draw in all that talent that’s out there, some of them musicians and some of them just people who have a real appreciation for this art form. It’s really a wonderful thing.”
Two years ago, festival organizers teamed with a few of Mesilla’s enthusiastic restaurant owners to expand the festival beyond its original two days, with bands performing paid gigs – an oddity in a town this size, and one the society goes out of its way to correct – at a number of the town’s established eateries.
“We try to support all of the local bands, and New Mexico hasn’t got a lot of venues for these guys to play, and a lot of the groups you’ll see here are professors and things, and making ends meet these days is hard for everybody,” Brooks said. “We like to try to get them to perform for us at our monthly meetings, and we figured what better way to do this than to see them in a more informal setting, in a restaurant, where you can have a drink or dinner while you listen to some good music. Most of the bands have performed for us at our meetings throughout the year.”
This year, from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, seven bands will play at seven restaurants for the happening’s “jazz crawl,” which Brooks laughingly reminds is not a recommendation to over-imbibe: Ruben Gutierrez Trio at La Posta de Mesilla, The RG Trio at Emilia’s on the Plaza, Just Friends at Andele’s Dog House, Jim Helder Trio at Double Eagle, Border Trio with Roman Chip at Josefina’s, Footprints with Pancho Romero and St. Clair Winery and Bistro and No Reservations Jazz Trio at Café de Mesilla. Save for Double Eagle, there are no cover charges.
Given the close proximity of these venues, Friday night should be a treat for music lovers living in a town largely bereft of such a “scene.”
“They’re all pretty much in the same area around the town square, so you can hear more than one band,” Brooks said. “You can walk from one to the other – from Double Eagle to Josefina’s to Café de Mesilla to Emilia’s, hearing two or three bands throughout the course of the night.”
On Saturday afternoon, the plaza comes alive with performances from Havana Quintet (1 to 2 p.m.), Border Jazz Quartet (2:15 to 3:15) and Papa John De-Francesco Trio (3:45 to 5 p.m.), led by the renowned Hammond Organ representative, brought to this year’s happening by a generous and anonymous member donation. Sunday’s lineup includes Chris Reyman Quartet (2 to 3:15 p.m.), Marty Olivas Quartet (3:30 to 4:45) and Jazz Unlimited (5 to 6 p.m.), a big band in every sense of the word, boasting more than 18 members.
The Mesilla Jazz Happening, along with the newly minted Red, White and Blues Festival held the past two years in August on the grassy foregarden of St. Clair Winery and Bistro, falls in line with the MVJBS’ mission at large. Since 2006, the group has worked to promote an appreciation of jazz and blues art forms and create musical opportunities for aspiring and established musicians through public performances, monthly meetings and concerts, annual festivals and two student scholarships, the Mesilla Valley Jazz and Blues Society Bob Buns Scholarship and the Mesilla Valley Jazz and Blues Society Helen Sachs Helder Vocal Jazz Scholarship.
If you love jazz and blues music – or consider yourself a patron of the arts – consider becoming a MVJBS member. Members save 38 percent on cover for the society’s monthly meetings and concerts and help support the performing arts and artists in the process. MVJBS memberships are $20 per year for individuals, $30 for families and $5 for students. After June – as in, now – a full-price membership will be good through 2016.
The society meets on the third Sunday of each month at First Christian Church, 1809 El Paseo Road, for a brief discussion of business followed by a concert. Admission is $8 for nonmembers, $5 for members and $1 for students with ID.
Society members will be available during the festival to answer questions and provide additional information, and memberships – and $1 bottles of icecold water – will be sold, with all money raised going toward the MVJBS scholarships fund.
For more information on the Mesilla Valley Jazz and Blues Society, as well as a calendar of meetings and concerts, visit www.mvjazzblues.net. Zak Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.