The ninth annual Salem Jazz and Soul Festival last weekend served up more than just two days of back-to-back sizzling performances from the likes of Krewe De Groove, The North Shore Jazz Project All Stars and Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers. The non-profit SJSF, with its mission of supporting musicians and music education, is entirely run by volunteers, and for the 80 or so who ran the two-day event, the festival also served up an opportunity to give back and do something meaningful on a personal level.
“People volunteer because they love the music and they love supporting music education for kids,” said Linda Goldstein, SJSF 2015 Volunteer Coordinator, who lives in Swampscott.
They also volunteer because they have benefited from the good work SJSF does and want others to have the same opportunity.
Alex Wang, 17 years old and a 2015 Salem High School graduate, attended jazz and recording camp at Salem State University thanks to a scholarship from SJSF. “I learned so much. The best way to get better at jazz is to surround yourself with people who are better than you. That’s what I did and I improved greatly,” he said.
He also learned about the power that music has to entertain and to bring people together. “If you’ve ever played in a band, you know how that feels. It’s an activity that you can’t compare to anything else,” he said.
Wang, who has played jazz piano for the Salem High School Jazz Band for three years, volunteered at the festival last year and this year. “This is me giving back,” he said with a smile.
As a University of Massachusetts freshman in Amherst next year, he will study music education and classical clarinet. He offered this advice to incoming high school freshmen who wonder whether to get involved in jazz band: “Jump in with both feet. Don’t test the water; just go in. Have fun!”
Mayri Ross, 14, couldn’t agree more. When she moved from her hometown Salem to Portland, Oregon, in 2011, she didn’t know too much about jazz, although she had a background in music since her father was “big on music” and her mother was a vocalist.
She took a beginning concert band class with no idea how to play an instrument, although she had a little knowledge of how to read simple notes. She picked up the tenor sax and learned to play well enough to join the school’s intermediate band and participate in the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow, Idaho.
“I met so many new friends. It was a really interesting experience that cemented my interest in jazz,” she said.
Knowing she would be visiting family in Salem and determined to devote her summer to learning more about jazz, she began researching how to combine the two. When she found that her hometown had a jazz festival, she looked at the volunteer shifts and signed up for the pre-shows and both days of the festival, where she sold festival clothing and souvenirs in the Merchandise Tent.
“I wanted to learn more so I could grow in my art,” she said, clearly delighted that the tent’s location was right next to stage.
As a jazz and blues singer, Volunteer Coordinator Goldstein likes the ideas of bringing free concerts to people and of supporting music education programs for area students. She came to SJSF through her volunteer coordination activities at North Shore Jazz Project, an organization that works to create an environment on the North Shore where music education, performance and appreciation can flourish. Many NSJP members she knew were also involved in the Jazz & Soul Fest, and they solicited Goldstein to help with the festival. This is her third year and she loves it.
“It’s not real hard to get people to volunteer, which is nice,” Goldstein said. Her duties include managing the online site where people sign up to volunteer and figuring out ways to drive traffic to the site. She makes sure that she has coverage in all the spots she needs it and that people know where to go and what to do when they arrive.
She also makes sure volunteers know how much they appreciated. “At other concerts, volunteers get [the benefit of] free admission, but because this is a free concert, festival volunteers do it out of the goodness of their hearts,” she said. In return, they are treated to a cruise around Salem Harbor and the chance to win a gift card donated generously by local vendors Finz, Flying Saucer Pizza, Fran & Diane’s Kitchen, Front Street Coffeehouse, Longboards, Seafood Shanty and the Ugly Mug Diner.
Jackie Kinney, also from Swampscott, is another huge jazz fan who wanted to volunteer her time to a cause that was personal. As project manager for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts, she has organizational skills built over a career-long period. “I’d love to be able to take those kinds of skills and move them into more of an arts and culture space,” she said.
Instead of a boxy, red volunteer T-shirt, Kinney’s was stylish, cropped and sleeveless. “I have done this for my youngest daughter. It’s a beautiful day, but it’s a hot day. I wanted to air things out so I grabbed my scissors and started to snip, snip,” she said with a laugh.
Sitting at the volunteer check-in booth, Kinney was jubilant. “I’ve been here for two hours and heard a terrific high school band. It’s fun and something I’d like to do more of,” she said, adding, “I want to get to know the people who organize this event, raise my hand, and ask, ‘What do you need?’ and ‘How can I help?’”
For more information, visit http://www.salemjazzsoul.org.