Garrett Andrews

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May 19, 2013
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Jazz rains on Canyonville

CANYONVILLE — Lots of cities host a jazz festival. Fewer host a second annual.

One key to success is having someone involved like John Gronberg, a Canyonville music teacher and former pro trumpet player who on Saturday at Pioneer Park was seeing through a pet project he started a year ago, and which he said will be back next year.

After the first Canyonville Jazz Festival, the event’s main organizer said his earlier feelings of doubt were gone.

“I’m so happy and so surprised,” he said, a little winded. “This was the perfect way to start it, rain and everything.”

With several hundred attendees, it was no Pioneer Days — the three-day gathering that draws thousands to the park in late August — or Pumpkin Festival. But Gronberg said he wanted to start small and allow the jazz festival time to grow naturally.

Those who sat through several sprinklings were enthusiastically supportive.

Thirteen vendors peddled homemade dog bones, barbed wire art, stuffed bears and organic herbs. The Canyonville South Umpqua Fire District sold hot dogs and hamburgers out of its on-site kitchen to benefit its scholarship fund.

“We’re pleasantly surprised,” said volunteer firefighter Rick Richardson, working in the kitchen. “It’s actually a pretty good crowd.”

Four Douglas County bands played hour-long sets, offering the crowd a range of adept soloists, and a good overview of jazz history.

The day wouldn’t have happened at all if Gronberg hadn’t walked past the Pioneer Park stage one morning last year and noticed that it would make a nice venue for the Big Horn Jazz Band, the Roseburg community band he energetically performs in and directs.

He said that in putting together the event, he called on his experience organizing large musical festivals when he taught at Washington State University and at high schools.

He said he’s heard from more than a dozen bands interested in getting on the bill next year.

He plans to start earlier in the day next time, and have bands play shorter sets.

“Next year: same time, same place. Let’s do it,” he told one well-wisher at the end of the show.

As a member of a house orchestra at a Reno theater, Gronberg backed the likes of Cher, Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr. On Saturday, he shared the stage with attorneys, physicians, teachers and the other unassuming community members who make up the Big Horn Jazz Band.

He said those who play music for the love of it find ways of coming together. Many people would be surprised to learn how close they live to top-flight talent, Gronberg said.

“Honestly, I think most places are like that,” said Gronberg, who teaches band and choir at three local schools and Umpqua Community College.

One hidden talent on display was Dave Kennedy, who during the work week is a landscaper at Wildlife Safari in Winston, and on days like Saturday is an ace on alto saxophone. The 25-year-old, with his wild phrasing and killer tone, was a crowd favorite.

Kennedy has been building his chops in local funk, Motown and blues bands. He hopes to move to Seattle in a few years to make it as a professional musician.

“Playing music is so much fun,” he said.

Retiree Bill Murray of Canyonville said he was surprised to see talent like the Big Horn Jazz Band on display in tiny Canyonville.

“I wish these guys would play here more often,” he said.

• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at

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The News-Review Updated Jun 13, 2013 12:21PM Published May 20, 2013 01:20PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.