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 Folks come from all over just to soak up the good social vibes and great music

while contributing to a worthy cause. Because Tony Williams is an educator



Tony Williams Scholarship Jazz Festival 

Swings For Education

By Junious R. Stanton


For the past thirteen years Tony Williams and the Mt Airy Cultural Center have sponsored, organized and promoted a Jazz Festival to raise scholarship money to assist students in continuing their post secondary education. What they call a Scholarship Jazz Festival is really a laid back smorgasbord of musical genius and talent and a fun filled Labor Day Weekend package rolled into one. 

Each Labor Day weekend jazz afficionados from up and down the East Coast and beyond converge on the Cherry Hill Hilton in Cherry Hill New Jersey to partake of a weekend of music, camaraderie and fellowship. While the purpose of the festival is to raise funds for scholarships, expose jazz lovers to up and coming artists, provide exposure for local and regional favorites as well as showcase the established masters, it really takes on a more serious albeit fun filled mission, to preserve the genre of music known as Jazz, continue and build upon that legacy. 

The Tony Williams Scholarship Jazz Festival debuts young talent and student musicians, and brings in some of the greatest musicians in the world to play before appreciative audiences of knowledgeable fans. While the festival is intergenerational because it is organized by mature and culturally conscious volunteers, it is one of the most senior friendly venues in existence. 

Folks come from all over just to soak up the good social vibes and great music while contributing to a worthy cause. Because Tony Williams is an educator, the festival also offers workshops and teaching/learning sessions led by world famous musicians where teenagers can sit at the feet of people like John Blake and learn about the tradition of jazz and glean tips on how to be a better musician.

This year’s itinerary included the Mt Airy Cultural Center Student Faculty Band, the Intermezzo Choir of Ministry, the Jeannie Brooks Ensemble, the Bootsie Barnes Quintet, Pieces of A Dream and a midnight jam session featuring Phil Wright Cecil McBee, Walter Clark, Larry Mc Kenna, Tommy Grice and Tony Williams and that was just the Friday main stage lineup! 

There was continuous live jazz in the lobby.   Saturday’s lineup featured youth workshops, the Intermezzo Choir Ministry, the Denise King Ensemble, a Violin Summit featuring John Blake, Iorg Widmoser from Germany, and 97-year-old sensation Claude Williams and the fabulous Heath Brothers Percy, Jimmy, and Albert “Tootie” Heath plus one. 

Sunday featured a soulful ecumenical service led by Rev. Mattie Pinkney featuring the Central State University Chorus which is always a favorite. Following the ecumenical service there was a musicians reunion jam session.

The Chris Lowery Quintet performed in the main ballroom. In the afternoon the Mt Airy Cultural Center held its Awards Ceremony followed by the Ronnie Waters Quintet and The Trio featuring Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, and Mikey Roker. To cap the night off, the Joe Sudler Big Band provided dance music. 

Monday the beat continued with a Jazz Breakfast that was followed by the Tia Fuller Quartet, an all-female ensemble. The Terell Stafford Quartet provided the afternoon entertainment, which was followed by a pool side jam featuring the Rob Henderson Ensemble.  In addition to the outstanding line up of musicians, the festival also paid tribute to Philadelphia  bassist Percy Heath. Heath is one of the talented Heath brothers  -- Jimmy a saxophonist and Albert a drummer each a master in their own right. Percy Heath is also the sole remaining member of the legendary Modern Jazz Quartet. 

                                                 Photo: Tony Williams presents Percy Heath with the Mt Airy Cultural Center's Achievement Award.  

When the Heath brothers performed together and it was obvious they were having as much fun working together as the audience was listening and jamming to their music.  

At the conclusion of  their set Tony Williams presented Percy with an achievement and dedication award from the Mt Airy Cultural Center. The festival offers an all inclusive package for the entertainment as well as single set tickets. Vendors were on hand selling a myriad of high quality products, clothing and memorabilia.

The festival offers something for everyone. Next year if you are looking for a place to be during the Labor Day Weekend and you want to experience lovely ambiance, great jazz and camaraderie make plans to attend the 14th annual Tony Williams Scholarship Jazz Festival.  

Photos: Junious R. Stanton

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