Councilwoman Nancy Sherlock of Morrisville, Pennsylvania came up with a novel way to both memorialize her late husband, a musician, and bring culture to her community. Working with Morrisville native pianist and composer Eric Mintel, she helped organize and create the Michael Sherlock Morrisville Jazz Festival last August. The event was such a success, drawing several hundred people to Morrisville’s Williamson Park, that Sherlock and others knew they would have to hold the event annually.
"My husband played saxophone for six years but he also played in a Mummers Uptown string band," Sherlock says in a phone interview from her Morrisville home. He died from cancer in 2002, at age 50. "Michael loved all kinds of music, but we would go all over the place to hear jazz and blues."
Sherlock and her children have set up the non-profit Michael Sherlock Foundation, which helped fund the first jazz festival last summer. "We were trying to think of some way to include family and friends in honoring his memory, and we came up with the idea of a jazz festival," Sherlock says. This year’s festival is also funded by the foundation as well as a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, with assistance from the borough of Morrisville.
The second annual Michael Sherlock Morrisville Jazz Festival, Sunday, August 26, in Williamstown Park, will feature a big band, a cutting edge blues-based jazz vocalist, and several piano players and their groups. Emcees for the day’s events include Bob Perkins from Temple University public radio station, WRTI-FM, and Maureen Malloy, the station’s new jazz programming director.
Pianist Eric Mintel of Feasterville, Pennsylvania, who was recently a guest on Marian McPartland’s syndicated "Piano Jazz" program on National Public Radio, served as talent coordinator for the festival again this year. "Nancy came to see me perform about two years ago at the Kimmel Center. I asked her how her husband was doing, and she said he had died. I said I was thinking about doing a jazz festival in Morrisville and she approached the Mayor and the rest of the council about the idea. We had just three bands last year and a very small budget, but we got several hundred people into the park."
This year the programming has been expanded by two hours; musicians will entertain from noon to 7 p.m. The Tony Gairo/Gary Rissmiller Jazz Orchestra will perform Gairo’s original compositions, Mintel says, "and they’re a powerhouse of a big band."
Pearl Williams is a Philadelphia-based jazz vocalist who is not stranger to singing the blues, Mintel says. "She’s a straight ahead jazz singer with a bluesy feel to much of her band’s music." Williams’ latest album is "Pearl’s Pearls." Pianist and vocalist Donna Antonow and her trio are unique, Mintel says, "because of her great sense of phrasing and her unique vocal stylings."
The Arpezzio Jazz Ensemble, which plays traditional jazz, is led by bassist Warren Oree. "Warren is always doing things to broaden the audience for jazz in the Philly area, and he puts on a jazz poetry festival every year in West Philadelphia," Mintel says. "He’s been instrumental in helping lots of jazz artists in the community, and frankly, he’s thrown me a lot of work."
Headlining the festival will be Mintel’s own quartet, which includes himself on piano, Neil Wetzel on saxophones and flute, Dave Antonow on bass and Jeremy Bernerian, drums. "We do a lot of original compositions, all instrumental, in a straight-ahead jazz vein, and we also do a lot of the rarely heard music of Dave Brubeck," says Mintel.
Mintel stresses that the festival would not be possible without the support of Morrisville Mayor Tom Wisnosky, a trumpet player and jazz fan. "The park is a beautiful location along the Delaware," Mintel says, "and it’s just going to be a great day for people to come out, relax, and enjoy some American jazz."
Second Annual Michael Sherlock Morrisville Jazz Festival, Saturday, August 27, noon to 7 p.m., Williamson Park, Delmorr Avenue, Morrisville, Pennsylvania. Free. 215-295-8181 or 215-295-8182.