Summit to host jazz, heritage festival Sunday

By Karen Freeman

Enterprise-Journal Newspaper
McComb, Mississippi

September 26, 2008

John Gilmore      Lester Young
         John Gilmore                                                 Lester Young

(Summit, MS) – The late John Gilmore and Lester “Prez” Young, both celebrated jazz musicians and southwest Mississippi natives, will be posthumously honored at the 13th annual Mississippi Jazz and Heritage Festival from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday.

And to honor Gilmore’s roots, this year, the festival will be held at the Summit Rotary Gym, 4010 Robb St. Ext.

Admission is free for all ages, but donations will be accepted.

Gilmore was born in Summit on Sept. 28, 1931. At age 3, he moved to Chicago and began studying the clarinet as a teenager.

It wasn’t long before he began proving himself on stage. On tenor saxophone, he toured in 1952 with the Earl Hines Orchestra as part of a road show that accompanied the Harlem Globetrotters. In 1953, Gilmore became one of the founding members of Sun Ra’s Arkestra. He played on “Jazz By Sun Ra,” released in 1957, and he would go on to play on nearly all of Ra’s 150-plus records.

Young, referred to by some as the father of modern jazz saxophone, was born Aug. 27, 1909, in Woodville. At age 11, he and his family moved to Minneapolis, where he and his father, Willis Handy Young, started a family band.

Young went on to play with Art Bronson, Bennie Moten, George Lee, King Oliver, Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson, Nat “King” Cole, Dizzie Gillespie, Andy Kirk and, late in his life, with Miles Davis. Singer Billie Holiday is said to have given Young the “Prez” nickname; he, in turn, reportedly named Holliday “Lady Day.”

A member of the Mississippi Musician Hall of Fame, Young died in March 1959.

In famed documentarian Ken Burns’ film “Jazz,” Burns said, “Young’s fierce individualism, no less than his liquid tone, distinguished him from the ensemble as the essence of cool. He swung like mad, but he stayed cool.”

Among the performers at the festival in Summit on Sunday will be Dr. Ronald V. Myers Sr., a Mississippi Delta physician and musician — he plays piano and trumpet — who will play original songs from his album “Doctor’s Orders.”

Also taking the stage will be tenor saxophonist Rachella Parks of Fort Worth, Texas, who is considered to be one of the world’s top female jazz saxophonists; and Dr. London Branch, retired professor of music and former director of the Jackson State University Orchestra.

Not only will Sunday be a day of music; it’s also a birthday for Branch and Gilmore. Branch will play with Mississippi jazz drummer Al Fielder, percussionist Wilton Knott and jazz drummer and percussionist Aye Aton, formerly with the Sun Ra Arkestra.

The festival is sponsored by the National Association of Juneteenth Jazz Presents, the Myers Foundation, the Black Arts Music Society and the smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center.

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