Hemet musician entertains at Jazz in the Pines

Local youth strikes a note of pride in San Jacinto Valley

Chris Smith / The Valley Chronicle
The Main Stage sported a number of sponsors’ banners including that of The Valley Chronicle, seen here behind the Graham Dechter Quarter.

■ By Chris Smith / Advisory Editor

Jazz isn’t for everyone, but everyone is in awe of one of their own who becomes a celebrated jazz artist. Hemet’s Owen Zorn has risen to the top of his field and has made his valley brethren proud.
Zorn, who started playing the violin when he was 2 and is now an accomplished bassist, was a featured artist last weekend at the Idyllwild Arts Academy Jazz in the Pines Festival that drew some 2,000 music lovers to the fringe of the San Bernardino National Forest where fires had raged only a few days before.
Zorn played Sunday afternoon in what is known as Stephens Hall, a small building on the 200-acre campus of the Arts Academy, with a group he’s calling the Howl, an ensemble made up of Zorn on bass, Avery Scanlon on guitar, Randy Plummer on sax, and Skylar Allingham on drums.

Chris Smith / The Valley Chronicle
Legendary bass player Marshall Hawkins, at right, performs with Harry Pickens and Roy McCurdy in Stephens Hall on Saturday and later Sunday on the Main Stage.

Three-day event
Their gig was one of the last performances in the three-day event whose goal was to raise $100,000 for student scholarships to the academy. The festival was started 25 years ago and has been a favorite venue for jazz lovers from throughout southern California. The school has already announced that it “will take a hiatus” in 2019, according to Pamela Jordan, school president. The plan, she says, is to bring it back in 2020 “in a way that still embraces the vision of the founders.” While the future always holds some uncertainty, local insiders have told The Valley Chronicle that this is the festival’s final year. Apparently the group running the event has changed hands, and the belief is that it’s just too much work and too costly given the return on investment.

John Newman, chief operating officer of the Idyllwild Arts Foundation, vehemently denied those rumors saying that yes, next year will be dark, but the festival will return in 2020 after being restructured to be less a stand-alone event and more in line with the goals, objectives, and activities of the school.

Chris Smith / The Valley Chronicle
With the beer flowing, Jazz in the Pines attendees had a party outside the French Quarter, one of three venues where bands played all day.

Hawkins mentored Zorn
Hawkins is co-creator and musical director of Jazz in the Pines who schooled Zorn for six years, first in private lessons and later when he was a student at the Arts Academy. “Until I started studying bass with Marshall, I had been doing my lessons for my teacher, but with Marshall I started to understand that I was really doing this for myself,” Zorn told an interviewer in 2017.
Best known for his bass playing, Hawkins actually is a multi-instrumentalist who moved to Idyllwild in 1986 when he founded the jazz program at the academy. Since then he has mentored hundreds of talented young people, including many of the artists who played at this year’s festival. These include such names as Casey Abrams (who finished sixth on American Idol in 2011), Jason Jackson, and Evan Christopher. Abrams blew away the crowd on Sunday when he played with special guest singer/songwriter Haley Reinhart, who recently released her third album, “What’s That Sound?”
Attendees to this year’s festival may have been a bit apprehensive about the trip up to Idyllwild as the Cranston fire was barely out. Half way up State Route 74 from Hemet, cars were being escorted to Mountain Center with a pilot vehicle. The reason was twofold: workers were still repairing guardrails and road signs along the windy route, and the CHP was concerned drivers would become distracted seeing the extent of damage to the forest land on the drive up. No pilot cars were required from the other direction on SR 74 from Palm Springs or up SR 243 from Banning, Caltrans’ preferred route. Ironically, ticket sales took a bump up as soon as it was announced the roads were open, according to Newman, who said sales were on a par with last year.

Carol Fitzgibbons / The Valley Chronicle
The Cranston Fire obliterated trees and foliage on large parts of the mountain, consuming more than 13,000 acres of brush and forest land.

Blackened hillsides
The author drove up from Hemet on Saturday morning and had about a brief 15-minute wait while the pilot car circled back down from Mountain Center. After dining with friends at their home in Idyllwild, he drove back down after dark about 8:30 p.m., and there was no pilot car at that time, though several CHP units were parked at critical locations along the mountain road.
Parts of the mountain have been laid bare, and it looked like the hills were firebombed in several areas visible from the road. The fire was, in fact, started by an arsonist, and a suspect was arrested soon afterward. Brandon McGlover, 32, of Temecula is being held on $3.5 million bail and charged with 15 counts of arson for starting nine separate fires to which he has pleaded not guilty.
Once we reached Mountain Center, however, there were the familiar green trees. Concert-goers seated on the lawn of the main amphitheater could look past the stage and see a portion of the hillside that was blackened, a point just feet from the stage where the fire had been stopped.
In all, the Cranston Fire burned 13,139 acres and five structures and was not declared 100 percent contained until Aug. 11, the third day of the festival, although by then the more than 7,000 Idyllwild, Mountain Center, and area evacuees had returned, and the last remnants of fire had traveled away deep into the forest where it was extinguished by the remaining army of firefighters who conquered.

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