The 2010 West Oak Lane Jazz Festival: How Jazz Helped Change a Community
The crowd swelled as the final evening concert approached when the George Duke Trio took the stage with Al Jarreau. Fans of Duke and Jarreau were lined up for blocks and down the side streets in West Oak Lane to get a peek at these true legends of jazz. Duke's trio played several high energy tunes before being joined by his former partner Jarreau. The seventy year old Jarreau, though moving a bit slower, looked happy to entertain the crowd with his classic tunes and his signature scatting. The festival ended in a roar as Duke and Jarreau teamed up for a high energy blues version of "C.C. Rider" to the delight of the thousands at the festival.
But the real story here may be how the festival has helped change the neighborhood. OARC was founded fifteen years ago by Representative Evans with the mission to stimulate business and economic development, cleaning and greening the area, working with the education system, and bringing arts and culture to the area. The mission seems to be working in this neighborhood of now attractive, well-kept row homes. OARC boast changes in the last five years including increased property values, a decrease in abandoned homes from 300 units to 70 units, new and innovative businesses, and new streetscapes making the area attractive for business and residents alike.
In 2004, in an effort to showcase the changes and make the area a destination neighborhood, OARC CEO Jack Kitchen contacted music production company Lifeline Music Coalition and co- producers Oree and Graziella D'Amelio to discuss hosting a large jazz and arts festival. "They said it couldn't be done." according to Oree. "They said that we could not hire this many local musicians and get support from the community. The headliners are shocked when they get on the stage and see so many people in front of them. They expect to see a small community audience, and instead they see thousands. To have something of this magnitude supported by the community is really something."
And it is really something. The West Oak Lane Jazz Festival benefits jazz lovers as well as the community that host it. The sense of pride of the local residents who volunteer for the event, as well as those who host annual parties for families and friends on their front lawns, is quite evident as one walks along Ogontz Avenue. The neighborhood now feels safe, clean, and alive with activity. The West Oak Lane residents, along with OARC and Representative Evans, have done a commendable job of working together to change this neighborhood and bring about a sense of community. And to host a jazz festival to show off their work is a stroke of geniusan effort that has now re-branded the area as a cleaner, safer, and business friendly area to live and work. This is a successful renewal project that hopefully can be replicated in many neighborhoods in major cities. And hopefully those who follow this model will include a signature jazz event that can prove to be as successful as the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival.