It’s been a difficult sixteen months for performing arts organizations across the country as they endured canceled concerts and events in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. But as conditions slowly return to normal, venues are re-opening and audiences are returning to hear live music. Beginning Saturday, July 10, 2021, the Sioux Falls Jazz and Blues Society presents a weeklong celebration of jazz and blues with a variety of paid and free events taking place each day around town.
The executive director of the Sioux Falls Jazz and Blues Society, Alex Gilbert-Schrag, says she first had the idea for the Jazz & Blues Week in March. “Normally, if you’re planning anything of this scale, I would say to start way sooner than that,” Gilbert-Schrag explains. “But given the status of our last year-and-a-half it was really hard to even plan for tomorrow. So when things started to look like we might be getting a bit closer to normal by this point, I figured let’s give something a shot and make it as low risk as possible; focus on the community and use local musicians as much as possible and see what happens.”
The weeklong celebration kicks off on Saturday afternoon with a return of the annual Jazz Crawl, which usually takes place in April during Jazz Appreciation Month. It’s a fun time to hear a variety of local bands play at venues all around Sioux Falls. Gilbert-Schrag describes the annual Jazz Crawl as a gateway for people who’ve never listened to jazz before. “It’s non-committal. You can go to your favorite bar, listen to some jazz and start to maybe appreciate it and start looking for other opportunities to come and listen to performances.”
To encourage people to actually “crawl” from place to place and not stay in one venue, Gilbert-Schrag says there’s a scavenger hunt. If you take selfies at four or more of the venues during Jazz Crawl and post them on Instagram using the hashtag #jazzcrawl2021, you’re entered to win gift cards, swag, concert tickets and more.
Jazz & Blues Week continues with a Sunday, July 11 concert by blues guitarist/singer Tab Benoit at the District. Over the following days there are performances by the Brian Hanegan Quintet, the Hegg Brothers Band, Ken Hoyne’s Little Big Band, Phil Baker and the young musicians participating in this summer’s Jazz Camp. The event concludes on Sunday, July 18 with an evening of Jazz, Wine and Food at the R Wine Bar with music by Latin Quarter.
For many of the musicians, Jazz & Blues Week is an opportunity to get out and play in front of a live audience again. “Some of the groups that are performing haven’t played together in a very long time,” Gilbert-Schrag says. “I know that a lot of them haven’t played in larger venues in a while so this is really exciting to be able to put some of those groups back together for this week.”
It’s also an opportunity for the Sioux Falls Jazz and Blues Society to start presenting live performances again. Gilbert-Schrag became the executive director of the organization in January 2020, shortly before the pandemic shut everything down. “Everything changed in the blink of an eye,” she recalls. “In one day, we went from thinking we were planning all of these great events for the year to having to cancel and postpone events and everything went into chaos.”
Gilbert-Schrag says the Sioux Falls Jazz and Blues Society went into survival mode during the pandemic and thought about what the organization should be. “We really looked at our core values and what we’re going to prioritize,” she says. “We prioritized survival and did anything that we could to make sure we were going to make it out of this and be able to do things.”
Jazz & Blues Week is just one of those things. Gilbert-Schrag hopes that even if you can’t make it to all the events during the week, you’ll come out to at least one and get a little bit of a taste of what jazz and blues music is. “It may surprise you,” she says.
For a complete list of events and performances during Jazz & Blues Week, visit the Sioux Falls Jazz and Blues Society’s website: sfjb.org.