It’s been another tremendous summer of live music in the Fox Valley.
For jazz enthusiasts, the best was once again saved for last.
Fox Jazz Fest, a Labor Day weekend tradition, will celebrate its 25th anniversary with two days of high-caliber performances; this year with a focus on Wisconsin artists. The free festival will take place Saturday and Sunday at Menasha’s Jefferson Park.
Artistic Director John Harmon, an acclaimed composer and jazz pianist, said the festival’s longevity is most attributable to generosity — in both effort and financing.
It isn’t easy to provide a free festival featuring world-class artists.
“It’s the dedication of a few people who persist and will not back off from a challenge,” he said.
Businesses have stepped forward in support. Individuals have put forth generous sums. Foundation grants have played a role.
“Obviously, the music is important to a lot of people,” Harmon said.
The festival has always placed a strong focus on youth.
Middle school and high school jazz bands will open each day. On Saturday, the 2019 jazz improv winners will perform. Sunday will feature a jazz clinic.
“It’s extremely important to the art form itself, to pass on the musical language of jazz music and the joys of making that kind of music,” Harmon said. “For the future of the music and its development, there is always going to be a new star to take it further.”
Harmon likes to think the festival has had a role in fostering a greater appreciation for jazz in the region.
The music — though never in the Fox Valley mainstream — has always persisted. If one venue that featured jazz happened to close, another has always stepped in to pick up the slack.
The festival has made jazz more accessible.
Through the years, Fox Jazz Fest has brought in top national and international artists.
In its Wisconsin focus, the festival will highlight the incredible musicianship that’s been developed here.
Grammy Award winning trumpeter Brian Lynch, a Milwaukee native, will headline Saturday’s festival lineup.
Janet Planet, well known at home and lauded across the nation, will headline on Sunday.
It’s a festival that artists look forward to playing.
Harmon said the festival has a solid reputation and has become a favorite for performers in part due to its picturesque setting along the shore of Lake Winnebago.
“The marvel at the beauty — and bless the good weather we’ve had for 98 percent of our weekends,” he said. “It’s been pretty spectacular for the artists. As artistic director for all 25 years, I can say they call me now. I don’t have to do a lot of digging.”