The Fred Woodard Collective, left to right: Matthew Williams – drums, Fred Woodard – guitar, Akili Jamal Haynes – bass, Fredrick Woodard (Fred’s son) – violin
The Dudley Jazz Festival, July 28, is founder Fred Woodard’s gift to the community that has been his longtime home. JazzBoston spoke with the dedicated musician/educator about his inspiration and vision.
JB: In just 2 years the Dudley Jazz Festival has had an important impact on the cultural life of the Roxbury/Dorchester community. As the festival’s 3rd anniversary approaches, what are you most proud of?
FW: I feel a sense of pride that I am able to bring together such amazing groups of musicians. The audience turnout and response to the music has been amazing as well. The Dudley Jazz Festival represents my contribution to the live jazz scene in the City of Boston and my neighborhood.
JB: What inspired you to found the Dudley Jazz Festival?
FW: I wanted jazz to be enjoyed by more people. I’ve always believed that if people were exposed to jazz they’d like it. But today you rarely see a live presentation of jazz on TV, and jazz broadcasts have virtually disappeared from commercial radio and even from most NPR stations. In the public school system, no music curriculum deals with the history of jazz. For many people, high ticket prices put live music venues out of reach. I launched the festival so I could expose my community to jazz music free of charge.
I also wanted to create an event that would give local jazz artists an opportunity to perform and expand their audiences. To grow and develop, musicians need to perform in front of an audience on a regular basis. You can’t make the same progress practicing by yourself – you have to be able to see what works and what doesn’t.
JB: How wide an area does the audience come from?
FW: It’s a mix of people from the community and people from other sections of Boston. One guy came up from Cranston, RI. A lot of musicians come out, which I am very happy about.
JB: How is the festival related to other things you do?
FW: I’m first and foremost a jazz guitarist. I practice my instrument, I rehearse my band, I play gigs, and I teach music. I’ve played for neighborhood organizations and done concert series in neighborhood libraries. Currently my band plays every fourth Sunday at the Woodbine Association, a small club in Roxbury. I’ve taught at the Roland Hayes School of Music since 1994.
The festival is a way for me to showcase my band. It’s like a benchmark, a way I can assess my progress. It also gives me an opportunity to hear what other local musicians are doing as I don’t get out to their performances often enough.
It’s also another way for me to meet and interact with the general public. Promoting an event through the media is important, but speaking with people on a one-to-one basis creates a deeper connection.
JB: Where did your early support come from?
FW: In 2016 I was on the Arts and Culture Committee of an organization called Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. One of the members of that committee told me about The Small Grants Fund at The Mabel Louise Riley Foundation. I wrote a proposal and received the grant. With those funds I was able to present the first festival.
In 2017 John Kordalewski, the leader of a band called the Makanda Project, informed me of a grant given out by the Boston Foundation called Live Arts Boston. I wrote a proposal and received that grant as well as the Small Grants Fund a second time.
This year I wrote a proposal for both grants and received them both again.
JB: What does the festival mean to the Roxbury/Dorchester community?
FW: This is an event people in the community can look forward to because it’s an opportunity to hear excellent live jazz music free of charge. The festival also gives them an opportunity to spend time with their neighbors and create stronger bonds. It also establishes the Roxbury/Dorchester area as a premier destination for high-quality live music.
People that I’ve met while handing out flyers often say, “I’ve heard of that festival. They have it every year”. People also often remember me from previous festivals and the work I’ve done around town.
JB: Looking back at the last 2 years, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned?
FW: Once you say you’re going to do it, you have to follow through with all the different aspects. To write a grant, you have to have a vision in your mind of the end result. And you’d better not leave it to the last minute. Booking musicians is easy, but you need to take time to listen to the music and know what it’s all about. In the beginning, keep it simple. All you need is a gathering of musicians and an audience.
JB: What are some of your best memories from the last two years?
FW: It was all good. It was very interesting to hear different bands perform and take note of the way they presented themselves. Despite some logistical challenges, both of the festivals were enjoyable.
JB: What are your goals for the festival over time?
FW: I want to maintain the quality of music and the presentation of the festival. I’d like to see a bigger audience at the festival every year.
JB: What do you want people to know about this summer’s concert?
FW: The main thing I want to emphasize is that the festival is FREE! We have some excellent musicians on the roster. My band, The Fred Woodard Collective, vocalist Lydia Harrell, vibraphonist Monte Croft with the George Russell Trio, and a quartet led by tenor saxophonist Ricky Ford. We will have some vendors selling clothing, jewelry, and other things. I encourage people to get there right when the festival starts at 12 because we want every band to have a big audience for their performance.
JB: What advice would you give to a jazz lover who wants to produce a festival in her/his own community?
FW: In a nutshell, have a vision and keep it simple.
Saturday, July 28, Mary Hannon Park, Boston, 12 – 6 PM
Clockwise from top left: Ricky Ford, Monte Croft, Fred Woodard, Lydia Harrell.