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Musicians and music lovers to honor Oklahoma City's jazz history and local pioneer Charlie Christian



Charlie Christian International Music Festival

Now through Sunday, the 25th Annual Charlie Christian International Music Festival will celebrate both the legacy of the legendary, innovative jazz guitarist for which the event is named, and the ongoing vibrancy of the present-day Oklahoma City music scene.

With events scheduled in both Oklahoma City and Edmond, the festival kicked off yesterday at Douglass High School with a new event: a free musical "sampler" that spanned gospel, classical, jazz and blues.

"We've got it all this year," said Anita Arnold, executive director of Black Liberated Arts Center (BLAC) Inc., the festival's primary backer. "We're trying to make it as great as we can since it's the 25th anniversary."

This year's headliners include smooth-jazz saxophonists Najee and Eldredge Jackson on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, at Regatta Park, 725 S. Lincoln.

Also scheduled for Friday at the park is the Battle of the Bands, which pits Tulsa-based saxophonist Grady Nichols and his band up against Straight Ahead, an all-female jazz quintet from Detroit.

"We've had these ladies at the festival before, and excuse my French, but these ladies can kick butt and call names," Arnold said.

The Jeremy Thomas Quintet will anchor tonight's jam session at the UCO Jazz Lab, 100 E. Fifth in Edmond.

"We're inviting musicians to come on in there and bring their instruments, and we'll give vocalists who want to come out a chance at the mike," Arnold said. "It's a $5 admission for those who want to just come and observe."

Mark Temple, president of the BLAC Inc. board of directors, who has attended the festival for roughly 15 years, said that while staging previous iterations in Deep Deuce had some historical resonance for him, he enjoys having the event at the riverside location much more.

"It makes it a different type of festival " more of an event when you can get together with a group of people, go out and socialize and hear some good music. I prefer the calmness and friendliness of a festival in a park," he said. "In the Deep Deuce, the crowds were spread out for blocks down the street in front of the stage, and for blocks off to each side. There's just something a whole lot more pleasant about the grassy feeling of being in a park."

Longtime resident and drummer Walter Taylor III, who has played the festival several times and is assembling this year's Charlie Christian All-Star Band, which will be among the opening acts on Saturday, said local musicians selected for the all-star ensemble look forward to the opportunity to play for a large hometown crowd.

"There are a lot of up and coming musicians who get a chance to perform, and it does something to perk us all up into spring and summer," he said. "You look forward to it, you prepare for it, and you take advantage of the opportunity to play for a hometown audience."

Taylor said another attraction of the festival for the younger musicians is the chance for backstage interaction with the headliners.

"You get a chance to mix and mingle with the national acts who come into town for the festival," he said. "And that's quite inspiring."

In addition to Jackson's headlining appearance on Sunday, Arnold noted that the rest of that day's program would feature another musical potpourri similar to yesterday's sampler.

"We're going to have a recording group known as JAIA (Just as I Am), which performs a gospel and spiritual program," she said. "Then we'll go on from there into jazz and then into blues with the Carl Moore Experience, Kevin Drake and the Walter Taylor Band."

Ticket prices for most events range from $20 in advance to $30 at the gate for Najee, $7 for Eldredge Jackson and $5 for Battle of the Bands.

The festival's annual recognition and benefit dinner is 7 p.m. Thursday at the Petroleum Club, 100 N. Broadway, There, Taylor will receive the Charlie Christian Jazz Music Award for his continuing efforts to bring music back to Second Street, Arnold said.

Maurice Spears, a former Oklahoma City resident and noted musician and composer now based on the West Coast, will receive the Evelyn LaRue Pittman Music Award. Tickets for the benefit dinner are $60. "C.G. Niebank

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