By Matt Mattei, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — On Feb. 23, 1951, “The Cavalcade of Dixieland Jazz” was held at the Hotel Redington, Genetti’s Best Western. A plaque located behind the band stand on Public Square commemorates that day of music as America’s first jazz festival and the inspiration for similar events held to this day throughout the country.
“The Cavalcade of Jazz” takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 15 at the River Common Amphitheater near the intersection of River Street and Northampton Street. The event is free and open to the public, features the music of Marko Marcinko’s Latin Jazz Quintet and celebrates the 65th anniversary of the 1951 festival.
Past president of the Riverfront Parks Committee, the organization hosting the Cavalcade, John Mayday said the committee’s mission is environmental education, but it also holds events that focus on arts and recreation with the Susquehanna River as a backdrop.
“You get a feel for appreciating the environment and learn to enjoy it in a way that is positive,” Mayday said.
Mayday was one of the driving forces in organizing the 60th anniversary celebration of the original Cavalcade in 2011.
“The plaque on Public Square was placed there by a former mayor, Lee Namey at the encouragement of his father-in-law, Lee Vincent,” Mayday said. “He was a local bandleader and a musical legend around here, and he performed at the jazz festival in 1951.”
Duke Ellington also performed on that day, 65 years ago, along with Marko’s father, Patrick J. Marcinko Jr.
As a teenager, Patrick Marcinko was the drummer in the Musical Minors, a nationally touring dixieland jazz group that reached significant notoriety.
“When we celebrated a few years ago, my dad spoke,” Marko Marcinko said. “He’s since passed away, but we’re trying to keep the embers of the jazz festival burning, because we want to pay homage to that festival and build it back up to what it once was.”
Marcinko said he’s glad the Parks Committee continues the tradition and he’s honored to be a part of it.
“I’m happy my Latin jazz quintet is going to perform in Wilkes-Barre,” Marcinko said. “I think people are going to like the music, and we’re going to have a good time.”
In the quintet, Marcinko is joined by professional players and educators Bill Washer, Paul Rostock, Bob Velez and Tom Hamilton, a group of musicians who have individually shared stages with Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra Jr. and Tito Puente.
“It’s extremely upbeat music,” Marcinko said of the quintet’s play. “It’s very dance friendly because of the Afro-Cuban influence … and it’s infused with the great jazz music that comes historically from great bebop players like Dizzy Gillespie.”
This year, Mayday, who is also affiliated with the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association, arranged the Cavalcade to coincide with the Third Friday Art Walk and the beginning of Restaurant Week Sept. 16.
Mayday said he’s happy to put the amphitheater to use for such an event.
“That amphitheater is such a cool place to put something on,” Mayday said. “(It) was designed specifically for this. It’s such an intimate setting.”