By: Joshua Danker-Dake | Category: In Our Communities | Issue: July 2007
Steve “Hambone” Ham, trombonist for Steve Ham’s Jambalaya Jass Band, is helping to plan this year’s event.
Most Oklahoma residents are unaware of jazz music’s roots in Sapulpa. The upcoming Fifth Annual Royal Jazz Festival will provide an opportune time to learn more about jazz and its history in our state. Held July 26 through 28, the free festival will be a wonderful opportunity to check out some local artists, soak up some culture and support the Sapulpa High School Band.
“There was a need for a jazz festival in Sapulpa for local musicians to showcase their talents,” says Steve “Hambone” Ham, one of the event’s organizers and trombonist for Steve Ham’s Jambalaya Jass Band. “Most of our groups are local.”
Unbeknownst to many people, Sapulpa is a cultural hotbed with a surprisingly-rich jazz history. The Sapulpa Jazz Festival is named for Marshall Royal. Born in Sapulpa in 1912, Royal played clarinet, violin, guitar and alto saxophone as a child. Spending over 50 years as a professional musician, Royal’s career highlight was a lengthy stint playing clarinet and lead alto saxophone for the legendary bandleader Count Basie from 1951 to 1970.
In addition to Marshall Royal, Sapulpa produced other jazz notables. Howard McGhee, one of the fathers of bebop, was born in Sapulpa in 1918. His trumpeting greatly influenced the development of later jazz styles, notably hard bop. Frank Wess also got his start playing in Sapulpa. He began playing classical music, later moving on to jazz. He played flute and tenor saxophone for Count Basie from 1953 to 1964. The National Endowment for the Arts named him an NEA Jazz Master in 2007.
The legacy of great Oklahoma jazz continues. Almost all the artists playing at the Sapulpa Royal Jazz Festival are local, and they represent a wide variety of jazz styles. Artists appearing include the Mezclave Latin Jazz Ensemble, Annie Ellicot, Steve Ham’s Jambalaya Jass Band, What’s That, The Wheeler Guitar Duo, Gayle Williamson, The Edmond Jazz Quartet, Okie Island Jazz Project and Rebecca Ungerman and the Frank Brown Trio.
“The Sapulpa Royal Jazz Festival is a great free event for families and churches,” says Ham. No alcohol will be served, and the Sapulpa police will be on hand to help keep an eye on things. Liberty Park will be the location of Saturday and Sunday’s events, featuring a splash pad for the kids. Door prizes will be given out, and a photography contest will be held. Additionally, various arts and crafts will be available for purchase. Be sure not to miss the auction Saturday morning at 11, benefiting the Sapulpa High School Band.
The Sapulpa High School Jazz Band is handling the primary vending for this event and will be offering burgers, hot dogs and other summer favorites. All proceeds will go to the band. Other vendors will be offering additional concessions.
Bring your lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets and come support the Sapulpa band as you experience Oklahoma’s impressive jazz tradition. The Sapulpa Fifth Annual Royal Jazz Festival begins Friday, July 26 at 6 p.m. at Martha’s Corner on historic Route 66 in Sapulpa. The festivities continue at Liberty Park on Route 66 at 9 a.m. on Saturday, July 27, and Sunday, July 28. You can find a complete schedule of the artists, information on the contests and more online at www.sapulpajazzfest.com.