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Jazz Festival revives Hillsborough scene despite budget cuts

Former festival canceled due to cuts

Larry Thomas, one of the emcees for the Hillsborough Jazz Festival, takes a break behind the stage while one of the groups performs.
Larry Thomas, one of the emcees for the Hillsborough Jazz Festival, takes a break behind the stage while one of the groups performs.

The shade of trees and notes of cool jazz helped locals fight off 95-degree heat at an event celebrating the area’s ties to music greats.

More than 400 people attended Saturday’s first Hillsborough Jazz Festival. The event featured seven local musical groups, food and an appreciation of jazz workshop.

“It brought out a real broad spectrum of the community,” said Tinka Jordy, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Arts Council.

“We’re really happy that we got the support we did for our first-time event.”

The festival’s theme was “Celebrating Billy Strayhorn,” who worked with jazz musician Duke Ellington for decades and had family connections in Hillsborough.

“We had a festival for him years ago honoring him, and we just thought it would be time to do it again,” Jordy said.

The arts council organized the event with James Hester, former recreation services director for Orange County Parks and Recreation, as a replacement for the formerly annual Cool Jazz Festival.

The original event, which ran from 2004 to 2008, drew more than 5,000 people in its final year but didn’t happen in 2009 due to budget cuts.

Hester said he created the festival in response to the large number of jazz fans in the area and will continue to promote local jazz appreciation through this festival.

“Look for us next year because we will be even bigger and stronger because it’s been successful,” he said.”

Durham resident Rufus French has attended both festivals and said he liked the event’s location at the historic Moorefields estate.

“This is a smaller setting, and the crowd isn’t as big,” French said. “It’s nice to be outside and hear some live jazz.”

Jordy said Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs, who is the executive director of the estate, offered the property to the council as a place to host the festival.

Edward Draper-Savage, a former UNC French professor and an artist, owned the estate prior to his death. He is buried next to the house on the property along with his cats.

“He bought the estate from the original Moorefields family, and then he left it in trust and asked that it be dedicated to the arts,” Jordy said.

Festival music included Lois Deloatch’s blend of jazz and blues, the John Brown Quintet’s bebop classics and the Magic of African Rhythm’s traditional West African melodies and rhythms.

The band Equinox, for which UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp is the keyboardist, played without him.

Awaata Mabinti Shabu, a member of The Magic of African Rhythm, said the arts council invited her group because of traditional African music’s influence on jazz.

“African music is the root of jazz,” she said.

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