The Celebration of the Arts (COTA)* held their 32nd Annual COTA* Jazz and Arts Festival September 11th - 13th in the Delaware Water Gap in PA. The dampening rainy conditions permeating the area Friday and Saturday brought some fears that this year would experience a low turn out as it did last year due to the torrential rains from Hurricane Hannah came to the fore. Fortunately, although the numbers of those who came to enjoy the jazz were smaller than years gone by, the weather proved to be much more negligible than last year’s. This may have been due to many offering up prayers on intercession to Ed Joubert who was one of the founders of COTA* and passed away a few years after its conception.
The festival began with The Opening Reception of The Annual COTA* Music Motif Exhibition held at The Antoine Dutot Museum and Gallery* in Delaware Water Gap, PA on Friday September 11th. The show is known to feature a talented variety of artists who creates works with a musical theme to be examined by a jury of their creative peers. COTA* and The Dutot* never fails to provide an impressive list of jurors which reassures those entering their work in the exhibition those who are fortunate enough to be chosen to receive special recognition for their work will be selected by those who are very knowledgeable in regards to the arts and will use their experiences and well developed insights in their deliberations.
The Jurors for this year’s exhibition were Michael Collins who is a local lawyer representing fine art photographers, writers, musicians, and music related companies and Liz Pemberton* who is a fiber artist creating Mural-art with elementary students in School Districts throughout Monroe and Pike Counties. She is currently awaiting the publication of her first children’s book entitled, “An Autumn Sunrise.” The third Juror of The Music Motif Show was Robin Scott who is an art teacher at Bangor Middle School and Bangor High School producing, directing, choreographing along with creating costumes and set designs for the school’s musicals as well as presenting her watercolor pieces throughout the area receiving numerous awards for her endeavors.
As with every year, determining which pieces to award proved to be a challenge even to this group of Jurors. However, The Musical Motif Best of Show was awarded to the artist Eduardo for "Tapestry," First Place in Painting was awarded to Bob Doney* for "Jam Session," and First Place in Photography to Garth Woods* for "Camp Jazz." These pieces well represented the variety of not only the styles of the work presented this year, but of the range of emotional qualities they brought together in one extraordinary show.
Some work depicted tranquil scenes with colors allowing the viewer to experience that quiet tune played within one’s being while others blared their embolden hues like songs designed to awaken your senses encouraging you to embrace a new awareness of life. The entire body of work challenged all who attended to discover the balance found within the range they presented. In doing so, a new world could be explored syncopating our existence just as the musical forms found within jazz does.
The exhibition for The Music Motif Show at The Antoine Dutot Museum and Gallery* in Delaware Water Gap, PA continues until September 20th. I would recommend visiting the gallery as its exhibition will bring you to a good place. Please Explore The Antoine Dutot Museum and Gallery* Website for more information.
The first evening of COTA* continued across the street from The Antoine Dutot Museum and Gallery* at The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain (PCOM)* who presented their annual Evening of the Arts featuring classical music, theatre, dance, and some soft jazz. Those who ventured across the mighty route 611 were treated to the creative gifts which soothed the soul, challenged our intellectual perspectives, enticed our divine natures, and set the jazzical mood for the remainder of the festival.
Their evening began with the classical renderings of Calliope with Gina Bertucci* and Barbara McMahon* on flute along with Laura Goss* of The Pocono Arts Council* on Bassoon. The calming sounds pronouncing themselves from their exquisite instruments touched the soul as only this genre of music can. It gently moves you to a stillness which is often abandoned in our daily lives. Yet, it is here in this sanctuary one can find a long forgotten and frequently sought after solace.
In stark contrast, The Water Gap Players presented their theatrical production entitled, “Waiting for Bar-o” featuring Greg Back* (who write the piece), Dennis Carrig* of The Deer Head Inn*, and David Hymes. Based on Samuel Becket’s “Waiting for Godot” in which two characters await the non - arrival of someone or something named, “Godot,” “Waiting for Bar-o” depicts two characters awaiting the solution of the energy crisis which continues to be depleted while causing numerous environmental calamities. As with the original play, “Waiting for Bar-o” is open to a multitude of interpretations with each thoughtful avenue expands the intellect just through the exercise alone.
As the applause of this theatrical presentation subsided, COTA* Board Member Tim Helman* rose to present The Sterling and Dorothy Strauser Award honoring the artistic contribution in the visual arts to Liz Pemberton* who is fabric artist known for her work with quilting and who also served as a juror for The Musical Motif Art Show at the Antoine Dutot Museum and Gallery*. Due to her participation as Juror, she was not present to receive the award. However, those who knew her and were present acknowledge her as a well deserving recipient of the award through their very generous applause.
It was at this point The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain* grew dark as the lights began to dim. After a year’s hiatus, the dance troupe known as “Anita Bondi* and Friends” were back. Past performances often called to the us beyond who we are to become willing to believe there is an awareness that goes beyond our understandings. “At the Intersection of Stillness and Beauty” is such a piece as it utilized LED lit costumes, video, spoken word, live music, and sculpture to communicate its ever reaching whispers often found in the art of dance.
The imagery created from these whisperings touched the heart through our eyes. Anita Bondi’s* choreography utilized the entire space available within the small church. For example, many of the dancers placed themselves upon the window sills with their long lit skirts descending from them. I later asked Anita* if the thought of “Window Dressing” occurred to her as the imaginings of what she would create became manifested. She said, “No. But, it works.” Those who performed in “At the Intersection of Stillness and Beauty” included COTA* Advisory Board Member Susan Bradford*, Clair Collins, Marlene Druhan*, Amber Freda*, Betsy Jackson*, Michael Jones, Heidi Minich*, Marci Molina*, Stacy Nominator*, Patti Posten, Stan Stewart*, and Susanne Wilson.
The evening concluded with a performance by The Vicki Doney* Trio featuring Vicki* on Vocals and Piano, Bill Washer on Guitar, and Allan Gaumer on Trumpet. Vicki’s* voice moved along the walls to catch each listener off guard in spite of any preparedness one might make. This endeavor sent the mind whirling in delight as each note and measure tickled the auditory senses leaving them eager for more of the same. What an ending to a wonderful evening as it created an anticipation for joys to be discovered on another COTA* day. Please feel free to Explore The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain Website for more information on everything it has to offer.
However, before I move on to share my experiences of the Saturday and Sunday portions of the festival, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Photographer and Friend David W. Coulter*. As you know, I cover many events to taking pictures and writing articles about them just in the way I’m doing now. This Friday night, I brought my camera but forgotten my batteries. David was kind enough to lend me his to I could record the images which presented themselves to me throughout the evening. Of course, batteries for digital cameras being what they are, ran out on me. Nut I would not have been able to capture any images if it were not for the thoughtful generosity of David W. Coulter*. Thank you David* for your consideration, for your friendship, and for being all you are.
The Main Festival COTA* has become known for began at noon on Saturday September 12th. As mentioned earlier, the light rain continuing from the evening before aroused the fear of a repeat experience of inclement weather. However, the drizzle began ceasing by noon which was just in time for the first notes of music to be played. A small, eager crowd met the sounds of The Skip Wilkins Quintet with Dan Wilkins and Paul Kendall on Saxophones, Tom Kozic on Guitar, Tony Marino on Bass, Gary Rissmiller on Drums, and Skip on Piano as they initiated the main concert. The long year of waiting for COTA to return was over and it was time to reap the rewards of their patience as the powers that control the rains abetted so they could fully enjoy their favorite bands.
There were many wonderful band who performed throughout the day. The included The Magic Touch featuring “Sweet” Sue Terry and Nelson Hill*, The Bob Dorough* Ensemble, The Alex Gordon 3 (who were new to the festival), the big band known as The Jazz Artist Repertory Orchestra (JARO), and a Special COTA* Jazz Jam: Alto City hosted by COTA co-founder Phil Woods* featuring Phil* on Alto Saxophone, Eric Doney* on Piano, Evan Gregor* on Bass, Bill Goodwin* on Drums, and many others who appeared throughout the set. This special performance was not only designed to entertain the audience, but to give each member an opportunity to support COTA* through their financial donations which could have been placed in a special barrow previously utilized to help those effected by Hurricane Katrina which touched in New Orleans, LA in 2005.
The day continued with performances by The David Liebman* Group featuring Tim Hagans which took jazz from it‘s commonly recognized form to an interesting trancelike journey and Sherrie Maricle* and The Diva Jazz Orchestra featuring an all female orchestra with the exception of Evan Gregor* on Bass and were new to the festival this year. The day ended with Spencer Reed’s* Blues Jam All-Stars which included Spencer* on Guitar and Vocals, Eric Doney* on Piano, Rick Madigan* on Bass, and Drew Siciliano on Drums. This was a rousing ending to a great day which left a sensation of excited anticipation of another day yet to come with even more sunshine and even greater music to be partaken of.
Jazz Lovers who came to COTA* the next day were met with sunshine. The warmth of a new day filled each person with anticipation as they began their day with a spiritual respite provided by The COTA* annual Jazz Mass composed, conducted, and a lot of other stuff by Wolfgang Knittel*. The inspiring service was led by The Reverend Karen Nickels* of The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain*.
Musicians lending their instrumental talents to the service included Nelson Hill* and Richard Bartz* on Saxophone, Patrick Dorian* on Trumpet and Flugelhorn, COTA co-founder Richard Chamberlain* (who composed some of the pieces presented during the Jazz Mass) on Trombone and Euphonium, Jim Daniels* on Bass Trombone and Tuba, Spencer Reed* on Guitar, and Ed Hudak* on Percussions. Singers lending their uplifting voices to the service included Michele Bautier*, Bob Dorough*, and Bonnie Childs* along with a choir of near angels coordinated by Robert Hartman and led by Teresa Marino. The choral voices included Kate Broda*, Bill Brugger*, Carol Cartwright*, Marilyn Clark*, Susan Cooper*, Vicki Doney*, David Larrabee*, Lydia Liebman*, Bob Nickels*, Becky Pelotti-Ruggiero*, Sandy Rader*, Valerie Sagheddu*, Arline M. Smeltz*, Saralyn Whitaker*, and many more. The rousing music and the encouraging sermon enhanced the spiritual awareness of each jazz lover as they continued their pilgrimage through the Jazz Mecca known as COTA*.
After the service was over, many of the attendees were asked to leave and re-enter the festival site. While awaiting their return while the purchase of tickets and distribution of the day’s wrist bands were being completed, The Lost Ramblers performed their toe tapping brand of Blue Grass music making the wait not only enjoyable but cause many to linger a while after they were re admitted. However, once those who paid their admission fee found their place upon the festival‘s hill, they soon were greeted with the jazzy sounds of a brand new day.
The first performers who met their eager ears were 3 Spirit with Nancy Reed* and Val Hawk* on Guitars and vocals along with Vicki Doney* on Piano, Percussion, and Vocals. 3 Spirit originated as back up singers for Bob Dorough and became known as “The Bobettes.” They eventually decided to to their own gigs and became known as “Girl Talk.” On a personal note; it was during one of their performances at The Tapestry Corner* in Stroudsburg, PA that I interviewed them for a new local internet television station which was later to be known as TV Pocono. Regardless of the name they choose, they illustrate Shakespeare’s line from “Romeo and Juliet” which reminds us, “A Rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” 3 Spirit’s musical repertoire and magical blend of voices lingers in the soul of all who experience them and proved to be a fitting start of the day’s festivities.
Adding to the day’s musical program were COTA* Newcomers The Chris Parker Quartet, The Evan Gregor* Quintet, and The Brian Lynch “Unsung Heroes” Project. The Bill Goodwin* Band played several selections composed or made famous by the legendary Thelonious Monk. The band was hot but it also allowed for some thoughtful introspection by a guest soloist of whom I hope to be forgiven as I’ve forgotten her name. But, I shall never forget the sensations she inspired by her a cappella piece or from the soulful performances of the songs that followed. I personally saw her as the Janis Joplin of COTA*.
The Celebration of the Arts* in known to go beyond it’s Annual Jazz and Arts Festival to honor the achievements those involved in the arts in the community at large. The Joanne Mayer Memorial COTA* Volunteer Award is given each year to honor the COTA Volunteer Spirit. This year, it was presented to COTA* Board Member Randy Shumaker* who is in charge of the physical plant and also organized the COTA* Booth at the Festival. The Fred Waring Award is given to honor the recipient’s outstanding contributions to the arts and the community. This year, it was presented to Bob Bush who is Coordinator of The Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection which is the jazz archive housed in The Kemp Library at East Stroudsburg University. He is also the editor of its magazine, "The Note."
One of the Highlight of the festival was performance of the 2009 (Volume 29) COTA* Cats. The COTA* Cats consist of students from area school districts who have demonstrated considerable musical skills and a kinship to Jazz. These students are mentored by a group of Clinicians who include many of the great Jazz artists who have graced COTA* and other venues throughout the decades. Their outstanding performance this year features an original composition by former COTA* Cat Matt Vashlishan* entitled, “Time for T.D.,” a new arrangement by former COTA* Cat Dave Springfield of Peggy Lee’s, “I Love Being Here with You” featuring Lydia Liebman* on vocals; and former COTA* Cat Wayne Bishop’s arrangement of Cole Porter’s “I Love You.” The performance also included two Al Cohn songs arranged by COTA co-founder Phil Woods* entitled, “Tea for Lou” and “Flugelbird” along with plus Phil* providing a performance of Benny Carter’s song entitled, “Souvenir.”
In addition to the annual performance, COTA* provides scholarships to exceptional students so they can continue their musical endeavors in an academic environment. This year recipients were Trumpeter Joseph Boga who is entering Manhattan School of Music; Trumpeter Chad Feakins who is entering Elizabethtown College and Pianist Davey Lantz* who is entering the Juilliard School of Music with a scholarship of $500 each. This year's Ralph Hughes Scholarship of $1000 honoring the COTA* Cat with the highest grade point average was presented to alto saxophonist Jenae Shoup of Delaware Valley High School. This year, COTA* and the family of former COTA* Cat Michael Richard Lacey initiated a new scholarship, "The Michael Lacey Memorial Scholarship" of $500 which is awarded to a student who maintains an A average. The recipient of this scholarship if Tenor saxophonist Nathaniel Partis who attends Nazareth High School. We at The Forwardian Arts Society would like take this moment to congratulate all the current scholarship recipients as well as those who will receive theirs for 2010. We wish you the best of luck in your meaningful endeavors and may you always go forward towards your dreams.
Other happenings around the festival site included strolling musicians Mark Hamza* on Accordion, The Lost Ramblers with John Updike* on the five string Banjo, Neil Morris* on Guitar, Coleman Smith on Fiddle, Anthony Hannigan on Mandolin, and Steve Belcher on Bass, and The Dixie Gents with Bob Leive* on Trumpet, Paul Hubbell* on Soprano Saxophone, Kevin Haines* on Trombone, Ray Schwsieguth on Banjo, and Jim Daniels* on Tuba. Rick Peoples played his Guitar and told stories in the children’s area while Maria Horn* shared her story telling talents with the children. In addition to all this, there was great food to be had by all and many wonderful items to be bought at the vender section.
Many of these vendors included COTA Board Member Don Conklin* who offered his Music Lamps, David W. Coulter* and Ron Ford* offered their photographic pieces, Robert E. Doney* whose painting of Phil Woods* and other artists was chosen to be this year’s image representing COTA* appearing on it’s poster, Tee Shirts, and other promotional material offered his other works, Harriet Ford*, Patricia Jiunta*, and Ursula Pooley* offered their Jewelry, COTA* Board Member Tim Helman* offered his creative works, Linda Newswanger* offered her stained glass pieces, Liz Pemberton* offered her fiber creations, John Sittig* and JoAnne Stratakos*, and Pia Somerlock* offered their Pottery collections, The Totts Gap Institute* offered information on they many classes and creative opportunities they have, and Anita Bondi*, Marci Molina*, Stan Stewart*, and COTA* Advisory Board Member Susan Bradford* offered a variety of creative avenues through their Mandela Design Works. There were so many things to do the two days of the outdoor festival hardly seemed enough time.
The Celebration of the Arts * Jazz and Arts festival came to an end with not one, but two outstanding performances. The first was the incomparable Nellie McKay* whose mesmerizing melodies and smittenizing mannerisms kept the audience spellbound throughout her set. Many of her songs were from her upcoming CD which is said to be a tribute to Doris Day. However, there were many renditions of jazz classics such as “Crazy Rhythm” added to the mix and sung reminiscent of the times they were written yet done so in Nellie’s unique way. She was accompanied by Danny Cahn on Trumpet, Lance Rauh on Tenor Saxophone and Clarinet, COTA* co-founder Rick Chamberlain* on Trombone, Tim Carbone on Fiddle, Jim Daniels* on Tuba, and Paul Wells on Drums.
Nellie McKay* was followed by the kick ass rock, jazz, and blues band, “Blue Sparks from Hell.” Their band is as old as COTA* and, Like COTA*, shows no signs of its age whatsoever. The band consisted of C. T. Tucker on Vocals, Timothy Carbone on Violin, Guitar, and Keyboards, Buck Dilly on Guitar and Keyboards, Andy Goessleing on Saxophone, Guitar, and Mandolin, Bob Fenstermaker on Bass, and Terry Wetmore on Drums. On a personal note; this band played at my first high school class of 1977 five year reunion and they can still get people to dance themselves into a frenzy. Damn, what an ending to a great festival. Everyone went home exhausted but in eager anticipation to next year’s festival so they can relive their experiences while creating new memories to sustain them throughout the year.
Still, there is much COTA* does throughout the year which helps ease the long wait for the festival to begin again in September 2010. The Sherman Theatre* in Stroudsburg, PA will present Phil Woods* and The COTA* Orchestra Library Alive with Concert IV being presented on Thursday November 12th and Concert V being presented on Thursday April 15th. The summer of 2010 will see the return of COTA’s* Jazz Camp which will conclude with a performance by the students who attend.
The Celebration of The Arts* an intricate part of the lives of everyone who love the arts. There is something for every interest regardless if those interests lie in music, the visual art, or the joy of experiencing a dance or theatrical presentation. I enjoy going each year as there is always a new experience to be added to my mental scrap book of memories. I always manage to make new friends and I never fail to be astonished by the adventures of those I have become reacquainted with throughout the years. It is especially rewarding to realize the numbers of friends who become a meaningful part of my life increase each year. I have seen many of you there and I’m glad for the time and conversation we shared. Please feel free to share your comments, reflections, and recollections about COTA* with me. I eagerly await your words.
The websites of some who mentioned in this article include: Celebration of the Arts (COTA) www.cotajazz.org, The Antoine Dutot Museum and Gallery* www.dutotmuseum.com, The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain (PCOM)* www.churchofthemountain.com, The Sherman Theatre* www.shermantheatre.com, and East Stroudsburg University www.esu.edu. The number of websites to be recorded are too numerous for me to do. However, if you participated in COTA* this year and would like your website included in this article, please let me know and I’ll edit it.
Please contact COTA* at 570-424-2210 or visit their website for more information. You‘ll discover more photographs on The Forwardian Arts Society COTA 2009 Gallery. www.myspace.com/forwardian_arts
(*) denotes members of The Forwardian Arts Society in good standing and are considered Our Good Friends.