Editorial: Leaving a legacy in all that jazz
By Pocono Record Editorial Staff
Posted Oct. 3, 2015 at 9:09 PM
Updated Oct 4, 2015 at 2:01 PM
Losing three pillars of the jazz community in one year could easily threaten a small organization like the one that runs the Celebration of the Arts every September in Delaware Water Gap. And certainly the loss has an even greater effect because COTA’s planners are volunteers.
Yet COTA will survive even the loss of its two founders, trombonist Rick Chamberlain (March 27) and saxophonist Phil Woods (Sept. 29), and long-time participant pianist Eric Doney (April 17), thanks to the dedication and affection — not to mention the eye to the future — that these jazz greats showed toward the annual festival. They built a solid foundation and produced an enduring institution.
Chamberlain and Woods dreamed up the festival idea back in 1978 at the Gap’s Deer Head Inn, wanting to showcase the considerable presence of jazz talent in the region. They launched the enterprise the next fall, charging a mere $1 admission. Within just a couple of years the festival featured a variety of jazz musicians and had added the COTA Cats program, inviting high school band teachers from the region to send their best student musicians. Dance and art components were folded into the festival, along with awards programs. Television and radio coverage materialized. Soon the festival which grew to three days, was attracting up to 4,000 people. Last month’s COTA festival featured more than a dozen musical groups along with the popular Sunday jazz mass.
COTA had always worked closely with Gap borough officials on the festival. In the 1990s they built a new stage and reached a long-term lease agreement with the National Park Service, which owns part of the property COTA uses each year, enabling them to plan for phased improvements. COTA also drafted a master plan.
The deaths of Woods, who was a four-time Grammy winner; Chamberlain, an incredibly versatile musician who served as principal trombonist for the New York City Ballet Orchestra; and Doney, who’d performed all over the world, hits hard. But their friends, colleagues and regular contributors are no slouches themselves: people like Johnny Coates Jr., Bob Dorough, David Leibman, George Young; and popular successes like Nellie MaKay. Festival musicians include graduates of prestigious schools like Juilliard and the Curtis Institute.
Many of today’s COTA musicians were children — or not even born — when Woods and Chamberlain first conceived the idea of the jazz festival. The two men soon showed prodigious talent for mentoring. Playing in the COTA Cats helped grow student musicians' interest, and the more recently added Camp Jazz, a week-long summer intensive, provides yet another opportunity to cultivate young jazz musicians. Young COTA veterans have gone on to attend Juilliard, Curtis, the Eastman School of Music or Berklee College of Music.
The foresight and unflagging enthusiasm for jazz of COTA’s founders and regular performers created a robust and thriving festival. Their legacy is that the Gap will continue to turn out fine jazz musicians and to represent a musical mecca for jazz lovers everywhere.