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Jazz cornetist Jim Cullum performs at the St. Barnabas Jazz Fest this Sunday, October 9. The Jim Cullum Jazz Band plays at The Landing on the San Antonio Riverwalk Monday through Saturday, and is heard on more than 150 public radio stations on Riverwalk, Live From The Landing. Photo by Phil Houseal

Jim Cullum will play jazz standards at the St. Barnabas Jazz Fest fundraiser on Sunday, October 9, 2005. The event runs from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. As of Wednesday, all seats were expected to be sold out. No tickets will be sold at the door. More details are available by calling Stan Shannon at 830-997-8802.

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Jim Cullum Spices up St. Barnabas Jazz Fest

by Phil Houseal
October 5, 2005

Fredericksburg boasts so much good live music, even the churches bring in nationally-recognized entertainment.

This Sunday, aficionados of fine music and delicious food will enjoy both when American jazz icon Jim Cullum stops by to add spice to the St. Barnabas Jazz Fest. (Note: All seats were expected to be sold out by the time this column appears)

His namesake Jim Cullum Jazz Band swings out at The Landing on the San Antonio Riverwalk Monday through Saturday, and is heard on more than 150 public radio stations on Riverwalk, Live From The Landing.

“This guy has played at Carnegie Hall, at the Kennedy Center, and hosts a National Public Radio show,” event co-chair Stan Shannon said. “It is an honor having a world-class musician in Fredericksburg.”

Bringing swing to churches is nothing new for Cullum, who is known for performing jazz masses around the area, including one in Fredericksburg.

“When Jim played here three years ago we had 450 people,” Shannon said. “It was the biggest turnout for mass in the history of our church!”

For this Fredericksburg appearance, Cullum has put together what he calls a “collective improvised ensemble.” The group will include Cullum on cornet, clarinetist Ron Hockett, plus a keyboard and perhaps another rhythm player.

“It’s really more of a chamber ensemble,” Cullum told me during a phone interview. “We’ll be playing mostly jazz standards.”

Cullum is very clear on what the audience won’t hear.

“We categorically avoid what we call the ‘Top 18’ - those abused Dixieland tunes such as ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’” Cullum said. “There is nothing wrong with those particular tunes, but they are played the same way just about everywhere. I try to swing and play the best ideas I can think of, while trying to get the best sound I can come up with.”

Getting that sound is a constant quest for Cullum and his players.

“The same instrument can be sometimes dark and soft, and sometimes bright and brassy. That’s the challenge,” he said. “That’s what I’m about. That’s what I do every time I pick up the horn. I try to make the music as interesting and beautiful as I can.”

Cullum admits having disdain for players who dazzle for the sake of dazzling. It points out the paradox great musicians face.

“We work hard to develop technique all our lives,” he said. “Then the goal is to make the technique invisible. We never want the technique to get in the way of an idea. It doesn’t matter if you can play higher or faster; it’s wasting your music. You only have a limited number of arrows in your quivers so there is no sense in wasting them.”

Shannon noted that the event’s fundraising focus shifted after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast.

“Originally we were going to raise money to help with repairs in the local church,” Shannon said. “But when they discovered 18 churches were destroyed in New Orleans, we changed the focus. We may have a leaky roof, but we can put a bucket under it.”

“And it was fine with Jim,” Shannon added, “since he has so many friends in New Orleans.”

“We have done a lot of things for churches over the years,” said Cullum, who can accommodate very few of the hundreds of benefit requests he receives. “I feel it’s something I can do.”