Jazz on the Green

Words by Jonathan Hooper | Photos by Stevo Torres & Jonathan Hooper

Like most creative endeavors, the annual Jazz On Th e Green event held each October at the Dora Lee Langdon Center had unusual beginnings. But Salzburg, Austria?

For one Granbury quilter, Kathleen Little, quilting is the catalyst for this connection. She is not a quilter by heritage, but rather by friendship. While she readily admits she is not among the most awarded quilters in the area, quilting has allowed her to enhance the lives of others and herself.

Much of her early adult life was spent overseas following her husband Lee’s engineering career, in the military and then civilian. Saudi Arabia was a recurring destination.

Photograph by Stevo Torres

In the summer of 2001, just a few short weeks before September 11, the TSU Jazz band travelled to Europe to perform at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival. They stopped for two days in Salzburg to enjoy the musical heritage and local culture.

Shane Jonas, then a Tarleton music student (now a professional jazz musician living in Chicago) was eating dinner with Janice Horak at a back street café in Old Town. Horak is now an Associate vice-President at Tarleton, but at the time was the Director of the Langdon Center. The conversation went a little something like this:

Jonas: “Janice, we need to do some sort of jazz concert at the Langdon Center.”

Horak: “Shane, you’re right. Let’s do it. You’re in charge.”

And so it began.

“For about two hours, on one Sunday aafternoon in October, this downtown mini-festival showcases the best of what can happen when a city and university work together.”

In 1997 Horak, along with Tarleton Director of Bands, Jonathan Hooper, started the annual Concert on the Lawn featuring the concert bands from Tarleton State University, but had been looking for a unique fall event.

This “some sort of jazz concert” idea from Shane percolated for a few weeks, then it was time to work. Or time to play. No one knew exactly what to start, or how to start it, or what to plan, so they just did it. They made it up. Much like live jazz, total improvisation.

In late October 2001, the inaugural “Poetry and Jazz on the Green” took the stage on the concrete slab behind the Gordon House. This first event was the creative collaboration of faculty and student, poet and musician, word and song.

To start the concert, Tarleton English professor, Sam Dodson, had just published a book of poetry, “After All Those Living Rooms” and his poems were accompanied by three Tarleton jazz students: Josh Bradford, currently a freelance pianist in DFW, Aaron Lemons, now a manager at Grump’s in Granbury, and Michael Crawford, percussionist and teacher in DFW and at Baylor.

Photograph by Jonathan Hooper

The second half was all jazz led by students Jonas, John Benedict, associate with Stream Energy in Gainesville, Eric McNiel, band director in Decatur, and Lemons. A few people showed up, mostly friends and family, the event barely registering with downtown visitors. But it was a beginning with integrity, purpose and great jazz.

The following year, the Tarleton Jazz band directed by Greg Ball joined them, and a few more people showed up to listen. By 2003, special guest artists were invited, such as the Pete Peterson Collection Jazz Orchestra from Dallas, trumpet player Shabda Noor from Illinois, saxophonist Brad Leali from the Harry Connick, Jr. and Count Basie bands, as well as first-call metroplex saxophonist, Tim Ishii. It all came full circle when Shane Jonas returned from Chicago a few years later to be the guest artist with the TSU Jazz Band.
Jazz on the Green concert often coincides with the annual Harvest Moon Festival of the Arts on the third weekend of October. Hundreds of visitors from all over Texas descend on downtown Granbury to enjoy the art, the multiple attractions of the square, and of course, Jazz on the Green.

People come from all over and sit. They dance. Or not. They come and go. Some come back. Tarleton alumni meet and greet. University faculty and city administrators join retirees and young families to relax on the lawn with sunglasses and blankets. It is, after all, autumn in Texas! But mostly, they listen to jazz. For about two hours, on one Sunday afternoon in October, this downtown mini-festival showcases the best of what can happen when a city and university work together. Horak explains:

“It started as a collective effort, with Tarleton State University and the Langdon Center joining forces to create a special new event. Throughout the 15 years of these jazz concerts, sometimes it leans more towards a Tarleton event. Then the next year, the it might be run more by the Langdon Center. Now that the City of Granbury owns the property, and the University performs on it, well, it all works out great. You can’t deny that there is some magic going on in this block!”

Photograph by Stevo Torres

Local retired band director David Talmage and retired music executive Ted Dolan had been trying to put together a big band in Granbury. Partially inspired by Concert on the Lawn, they set out to form the Langdon Center Big Band with the hopes of being able to perform at the July 4th weekend the following year. With the help of Horak, and a wonderful partnership with the Langdon Center, they put a band together just in time for the concert on July 4.

Mark Hettle, a jazz musician and educator from Dallas, became the first director. Three months later, they joined the second Jazz on the Green event, performing their second gig, and continue to open the event each year. Donations at their performances have funded numerous jazz scholarships for worthy high school music students who want to study jazz at one of the many jazz camps in Texas.

In 2008, the Jazz Patio was built on the Langdon Center lawn. Several small “no-name” jazz trios and quartets from Tarleton, along with just a few musicians who simply wandered onto the patio and played. Sometimes there was an audience, sometimes there was an event attached, but mostly, it was a place to plug in, set up, and play for a few hours. Now in decline, the Jazz Patio and the summer events that were held there for a short time have mostly vanished.

In 2009, the popular Granbury Wine Walk began, and the area where Shane began his humble concert in 2001 is now one of the most popular musical venues of the Granbury Wine Walk, with more than 6,000 people enjoying this unique outdoor music venue throughout the weekend. The perfect bookend is that the final band to perform at the Langdon Center this year during the Wine Walk was a jazz trio.

Today, from those humble beginnings, Jazz On The Green is alive, and swinging more than ever. Student jazz singers now join the big band, filling the air with their improvisations, while retired musicians from all over the country jam on the songs from their youth, and the audiences still sit back to enjoy live jazz. They dance. Or not. It’s live jazz, it’s off the cuff and the only rule is to enjoy the music.