Fall Jazz Festival: chain the bands
Todd Hildreth brings jazz music lovers together
Screenwriter / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Todd Hildreth was only 10 years old when he first became interested in music.
“I loved the music, but I never took myself too seriously,” he says. Although the lure of creativity was always there, he also had other interests, so he dated Bellarmine to earn a degree in English and become an English teacher. On the way to class, however, he took a detour and stopped at the music department where he played piano in rehearsal rooms and chatted with professors and students. It felt like the world he belonged to, so he finally decided to switch his major to music.
“This‘s when I discovered jazz,” says Hildreth. He graduated in 1989 with a music degree with a specialization in jazz. Two years later, he obtained a diploma in English. He put the English degree on the back burner and became a professional musician, playing with a number of different jazz and rock bands, including a band he formed in 1992 called Java Men, which incorporates jazz traditional, fusion, world music and Americana.
In 1994, he performed on the second stage of Lollapalooza, a four-day music festival. He also played at the Knitting Factory in New York, a club that books musicians who don’t‘t follow the usual boundaries of rock and jazz.
Hildreth, who has lived in the Louisville area most of her life, made a number of recordings and tours before meeting Jamey Aebersold and becoming a faculty member of the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops.
In 1999, Hildreth received a call from Paul Hegele, pastor of the Lutheran Church of Ascension.
“He told me, ‘We‘I’m looking for a musical director and someone with jazz experience. Would you like to do this?‘ and I said, ‘No I do not‘I don’t think so,” Hildreth said with a chuckle. Hegele persuaded Hildreth to come visit and when he did, something clicked.
“There was something about the place that felt right to me,” says Hildreth.
When he was expecting his first child, he therefore knew that he‘t going to be on tour for a while. He became the Ascension‘s musical director in January 2000. From the beginning he felt at home and he appreciated the fact that the people of the church encourage creative endeavors such as thematic services like Dixieland/ragtime, Caribbean, Brazilian or Hispanic .
“Everyone was keen to keep the music fresh,” says Hildreth, noting that the church has a traditional organ, a grand piano, and a Hammond organ, which is associated with gospel and soul music.
Four years ago, the church board met and parishioners suggested starting an annual jazz festival. Hildreth‘s ears perked up, because the idea suited him perfectly. Shortly after, the ALC Jazz Festival was born. They proposed a model in which six bands would perform on two stages (one indoor and one outdoor). Bands perform at the top of the hour – one on the outdoor stage and the next on the indoor stage – so there’s never a lag in performance.
“That way, one band can start the minute the other finishes, so the music is continuous,” says Hildreth.
The event features a variety of local and touring artists (usually around 70 musicians in total), offering different types of jazz from different generations and from all parts of the city.
“We‘“I’ve had pure, traditional jazz, and more electric, modern, and soulful jazz, as well as jazz with a fresh twist,” says Hildreth. “[The festival] has truly been a labor of love for me.
Hildreth, who has two children, loves long walks, good coffees and binging on Netflix. Music, however, remains his great passion.
People who mourn quitting music often ask Hildreth what made him stick with it. He tells them that he has no‘no choice.
“If I was invited to a party and there was a piano in an empty room, I‘I find myself in this empty room playing it,” he says.
Derek Bonifer, who never misses the festival, notes that Hildreth is an integral part of the local jazz community.
“Todd created an event featuring some of the best jazz artists in the area,” says Bonifer. “Not many cities host this type of event where you can grab a chair or a blanket, sit close to the artists and listen to six straight hours of incredible jazz. The atmosphere is relaxed and inviting, with amazing music washing away the dust of everyday life.
At the festival, there are usually food trucks present, some of which offer vegetarian and vegan options. Plus, Goodwood Brewing will be on hand, as will Comfy Cow.
For the first two years, the festival was held in July to coincide with the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops, which were two-week camps that drew people from all over the country, including New York and California. . The ALC Jazz Festival took place on the weekend sandwiched between these two weeks. Camps have since been halted, so organizers of last year’s festival moved the event to September for cooler temperatures.
Now in its fourth year, the festival, now called Autumnal Jazz Fest, will be held September 10 from 3-9 p.m. at the Lutheran Church of the Ascension. The first group to perform at 3 p.m. on the outdoor stage is Isotope, a group of young students, one of whom is a former student of Hildreth. Following their performance, the Sparks Quartet, named after frontman Kevin Sparks, will take to the indoor stage at 4 p.m. Hildreth will play with this band.
“We play modern jazz with a few surprises,” he says.
At 5 p.m., Potassium Man, led by Gabe Evens, will play on the outdoor stage. Evens writes all of the music for this band – an energetic seven-person jazz band with three horns. At 6 p.m. things get back inside for Old Lou‘s Ragtime Band, a group that mixes young and seasoned players for traditional ragtime jazz. At 7 p.m., Street Talk, a smooth-jazz and neo-soul band, will perform on the outdoor stage. The evening will end with the Jamey Aebersold quartet playing indoors from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The festival has grown steadily every year. Last year it attracted about 300 people.
“we don‘I don’t have the good problem yet of needing to search for more space, but we might do that in the future,” says Hildreth.
The Jazz Fest attracts a diverse crowd, attracting high school and college students to retirees.
“People are really happy to go out for the music,” says Hildreth. “We receive a lot of curious people who want to see what‘s happening, and then there are those people who will come to these festivals, no matter where they‘re located.
Bonifer says the Autumn Jazz Fest is probably one of Louisville’s best-kept secrets.
“But it shouldn’t be,” he said.
The Fall Jazz Festival will be held at the Lutheran Church of the Ascension, located at 13725 Shelbyville Road in Louisville. Tickets are $12 and children under 10 will be admitted free. For more informationcall 502-244-1856.