But a lot has happened in 10 years. Think jazz greats like Chuck Mangione and Clarence Spady. Both have graced the stage in Scranton at a special event honoring music that harkens back to the 1930s in the Electric City.
It was just 10 years ago that a committee of people from various walks of life in the arts and entertainment community saw a need to bring not just one jazz artist but an entire repertoire of musicians from the genre into the area for a special festival in the city.
And that’s how the Scranton Jazz Festival got its start.
“A lot of people said it wouldn’t last one year, let alone 10 years,” Bob Shlesinger, one of the producers, said recalling how the idea was met with great skepticism. “But we saw that the area was ripe for a jazz festival.”
Not only has the Scranton Jazz Festival lasted 10 years, it is celebrating that milestone anniversary in great style Friday, Aug. 8; Saturday, Aug. 9, and Sunday, Aug. 10, by welcoming headliners the Manhattan Transfer, a multi-Grammy award winning group best known for its 1977 hit “Chandson D’Amour,” which is French for love song. The festival will be held at the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel and various downtown Scranton venues.
The old train station at the Radisson is converted into a theater with lighting, sound, staging and seating that can accommodate up to 700 people.
“The quality of work is what brings people back to the festival,” Shlesinger said. “We always believed that quality will sell tickets.”
And the festival has built up a reputation among jazz artists. In just one decade, the event is known for attracting international, national and regional jazz/blues and world beat artists. Last year, Chuck Mangione performed. The group Spirogyra was a previous headliner as was Nat King Cole’s younger brother Freddie Cole.
Since the jazz community is not huge, Shlesinger said word of mouth spreads fast among the artists. The festival’s artistic director Marko Marcinko also has the ability to meet many of the musicians and their agents during his travels.
“We appeal to the artists and groups with our track record,” Shlesinger said. “They don’t play for free and we don’t want them to. Our reputation is growing and this enables us to talk to their agents. In turn, they talk among themselves and word of mouth gets around about what an enjoyable experience they had in Scranton.”
It is the name recognition of the headliner that the festival committee uses to draw on to bring people into the festival on the other nights, according to Shlesinger. “Right now, we have an older audience, but we are looking to get a younger crowd,” he said.
The festival has had support from the local business community and has received donations and grants to enable them to continue offering jazz music each year. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the past 10 years,” Shelsinger said. “There’s been nights where people have decided to do other things, but we always believe it would work.”
Scranton’s jazz history is impressive. Two jazz legends Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey performed regularly with the Scranton Sirens Jazz Band in the 1930s. The area is also credited with hosting the first known recorded jazz festival The Cavalcade of Dixieland Jazz in 1951.
The Scranton Jazz Festival will presents its student jazz educational component. Some artists performing at the festival will educate selected students at Keystone College in the skills necessary to perform jazz, blues, and world beat music. The students will then deliver a performance on Sunday.
The festival always ends with a 17-piece orchestra performing.