Originally Published: March 28, 2013 6:32 p.m.
The Prescott Jazz Society and Cannon Academy of Performing Arts are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year with a series of five jazz festivals.
The events kick off on Saturday, April 6 with the annual Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) Festival.
The celebration continues all year with the Juneteenth Festival in June, Jazz Without Borders in August, Women of Note in October, and Gala Anniversary Event in December.
When jazz sax player Milt De'Love Cannon Jr. moved from Detroit to Prescott a few decades ago with his wife to care for his aging mother-in-law, he couldn't find any jazz in this town so he quickly decided to do something about it.
He compared the challenge to "developing a bluegrass society in Harlem," but he got it done. By now the society has brought more than 1,400 musical performances to the region, Cannon said.
"What a miracle it's been," he said. "It's all about live jazz to me."
Cannon founded the Cannon Academy of Performing Arts in 1993 to put on workshops and encourage entertainers. The non-profit Prescott Jazz Society naturally evolved out of the academy in 1994, organizing jazz shows for the public.
Bonnie Mitchell was elated when she saw Cannon's advertisement about creating a jazz society. She had moved here from Phoenix in 1986 and was missing her favorite music.
"I was weaned on jazz, and to me it was like getting my left arm cut off" to be without live jazz, Mitchell said. "I loved the place, but it didn't have my music."
She has been a Prescott Jazz Society member since day one.
"Without community involvement, we wouldn't have a place to go," she said.
Gwen Calhoun is another long-time supporter, having been on the Jazz Society board since day one.
"The jazz that Milt does, it has rhythm," Calhoun said. "It's like soul to me. It gives me a feeling of contentment. It just hits me."
The Jazz Society started the J.A.M. Festival in response to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History's successful effort to get Congress to declare April as Jazz Appreciation Month.
This year it takes place in downtown Prescott at the Hassayampa Inn's jazzy Marina Ballroom and features three local bands: the disco of Funk Frequency, the Milt Cannon Jazz Band, and a reunion of Impact Trio. It includes music from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. and a buffet for $35.
Then comes the Juneteenth Festival at Arcosanti from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 15 and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, June 16, celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation.
It features out-of-town performers such as Richie Cole, an alto saxophonist, composer and arranger known for his creative jazz/bebop style. Saturday's dance will take place in the cool of the evening.
Jazz Without Borders celebrates the diversity of the genre on Saturday, Aug. 10 at the UCC First Congregational Church, 216 E. Gurley St. in Prescott. At the church location, it has taken on the aura of a spiritual, Cannon noted.
"I like the feel of it," he said.
Female performers take the stage at the Women of Note performance on Sunday, Oct. 20, again at the Hassayampa's art deco Marina Ballroom.
The year's Jazz Society events culminate Sunday, Dec. 15 at the Gala Anniversary "Super Ball" at the Elks Opera House and neighboring Hassayampa Inn Marina Ballroom, with dinner and music.
Cannon is inviting all the performers from all the Prescott Jazz Society's 2013 events to return for the December gala.
The society also will present a video at the December gala that celebrates its 20th anniversary, Cannon said.
More details are available online at pjazz.org.
"This has all been made possible through the passionate and enthusiastic support of the Jazz Society membership and the community of jazz fans," Cannon said.
So at the April 6 event he plans to honor long-time supporters including Mitchell, Calhoun and the owners of the Dinner Bell Restaurant in Prescott, Ben and Debbie Alvarez.
And early next year, the Jazz Society plans to put out a 20th anniversary souvenir booklet, Cannon said.
Cannon, 75, has been performing since he was 10 years old in Chicago and has no plans to slow down in the next 20 years.
"I feel what we've accomplished here is to establish jazz as a standard fare," Cannon said. "My direction for the next 20 years is to broaden the outreach for jazz.
"I want to bring in people that normally would not be attracted to it. I think that would probably be my last lick."