The 2nd annual Des Moines Jazz Festival was held on September 1-2, 2017 at the Des Moines Social Club in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. The event was characterized by eclectic jazz music performed by local and national musicians and an enthusiastic crowd of various ages.
The venue: The Des Moines Social Club
The Des Moines Social Club is located downtown and its main building occupies 30,000 square feet of a restored firehouse. The Social Club is a non-profit organization which sponsors classes, trivia nights, and films in addition to musical performances. The club’s other venues include the Prairie Meadows Courtyard and the indoor Kum & Go Theater. The courtyard and the alley leading from Cherry Street to the Kum & Go Theater sport brightly painted murals on the walls and stage panels. The Jazz Festival was co-sponsored by the Social Club and the Civic Music Association of Des Moines.
The NOLA Jazz Band
Two bands performed Friday evening inside the Kum & Go Theater. I arrived a few minutes after the performance started at 5:00 pm and found a standing-room only crowd. The NOLA Jazz Band, a popular group of eight local musicians, performed traditional and modern New Orleans-based jazz pieces, including “Stable Street Blues“, “Down on Bourbon Street“, “I’m Checking Out…Goodbye“, and the funny-creepy “Black Swamp Village.” Vocalist Abby Sawyer entertained the crowd with humorous songs such as “Hornman Blues” and “All About the Bass.” The group also performed standards by Duke Ellington and newer pieces written by trumpet player Bria Skonberg.
The Shotgun Jazz Band from New Orleans performed later Friday night but unfortunately I didn’t catch their show.
Dartanyan Brown Trio
On Saturday the line-up started at 2:00 pm in the courtyard with the Dartanyan Brown Trio. Dartanyan Brown is a graduate of Des Moines’ North High School and a talented bass player who has recently returned to the Des Moines area from the West Coast. Several of his high school classmates came to the concert, and I had an interesting conversation with one classmate after the performance.
The Izabel Crane trio from Springfield, Missouri next took the stage. This group played an interesting mix of gypsy jazz and traditional Americana music which they call “Ozark Jazz.” The group included musicians Liz Carney (vocalist, guitar), Matt Guinn (lead guitar), and B.J. Lowrance (drums). Liz Carney’s voice is reminiscent of Norah Jones in its strong, lyrical quality, and the guitars provided a strong driving accompaniment.
Hermon Mehari Trio
Hermon Mehari is a talented trumpet player who divides his time between Kansas City and Paris, France. He won the 2008 National Trumpet Competition and placed 2nd in the International Trumpet Guild Competition held in Sydney, Australia. He was a semifinalist in the 2014 Thelonius Monk Jazz Competition, and won the 2015 Carmine Caruso International Trumpet Competition. He has released two recordings with the group Diverse and recently released his first recording as a leader, entitled “Bleu.” In addition to Herom Mehari on trumpet, the group included Ben Leifer on bass and John Kizalarmut on drums. I was awed by Mehari’s technical brillance on trumpet and really enjoyed this set.
Twin Cities Latin Jazz Combo
This quintet was pulled from the 18-member strong Twin Cities Latin Jazz Orchestra. Led by drummer Mac Santiago and trumpet player Geoffrey Senn, the ensemble also included guest pianist Tanner Taylor of Iowa, Gregory Peterson on bass, and Marcus Hopner on Latin percussion. This group performed their interpretation of tunes including “Norwegian Wood“, “Claudia“, “Nothing Personal“, and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Berks Works.”
Sadly, my energy gave out before the last act, Sasha Masakowski, took the stage. Next year, I’ll come earlier for the indoor concerts to ensure a seat and plan to stay until the end of all performances. The price for the entire weekend of music ($25) was a bargain, and with free parking on the street or in the next-door parking garage, this is a budget-friendly jazz festival.