History of the Texas Jazz Festival
In November of 1959 Skip Vetters and Joe Gallardo, both members of the Jazz Club at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, called Joe's uncle, Al "Beto" Garcia, with the request that he brings his jazz group to the Student Union Building of the College to give Jazz Club members a demonstration of the fine art of jazz. In response, on a very, very cold Thursday night, Beto, Joe Gallardo, Sal Pedraza, Raul Cuesta, and Eddie Olivares played a jazz concert for the students. Expecting an audience of perhaps thirty people, much to their delight, some 150 people showed up and enthusiastically received the jazz artists. At intermission, Red Camp, a widely known and loved local pianist, asked if he might sit in. Joe Gallardo, who had been playing piano, switched to trombone while Red took over the piano. Thus the seed for the Texas Jazz Festival was planted.
Three months later Beto Garcia took another swinging group to the Student Union Building featuring Chester Rupe, a nationally acclaimed jazz guitarist, Dr. Bob Parker on trumpet, Sal Pedraza on bass, Jack Rumbley on drums, and Dr. J.B. Floyd on piano. Over 350 people attended, and there was standing room only. The Del Mar campus was overflowing with cars and alive with great swinging jazz.
Frank Hankins, Del Mar Librarian, saxophonist, and long-time jazz enthusiast, carried the message of the concerts to the College Administration, with the result that in May of 1960 the College Auditorium was obtained free of charge for a jazz concert in connection with Buccaneer Days, an annual civic celebration. Bobby Galvan brought in a swinging octet including George Erwin, a tenor man from Houston, and Ralph Duran, a fine local pianist now living in San Antonio. The First Texas Jazz Festival was a smiling, hand-clapping, foot-stomping success!
By the following summer, July of 1961, with the help of John Nugent, a public relations executive with the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce, the potential for success of the jazz concert was brought to the attention of the Chamber, and the Second Annual Texas Jazz Festival took place on the Peoples Street T-Head right out in the City's marina.
Local jazz musicians, plus vocalists Wanda Gregory and Jewell King, Jake Trussell of Kingsville, was master of ceremonies; Luis Gasca played the trumpet. Rene Sandoval, a great saxophonist from Houston, had heard about the concert, drove down with The Houstonians unannounced, and asked if they could play.
The schedule was very tight, but Bobby Galvan graciously gave them half of his time to play. The Houstonians became an instant hit then and there, and their leader, Rene Sandoval, has played on every subsequent Festival except one.
The next Festival was again held outdoors on the T-Head, when Paul Guerrero, a fine drummer, brought his sextet in from Dallas to play in addition to other great jazz groups; but the Festival was such a success that traffic became a real problem, and pleasure boat operators complained that the traffic was hurting their business, which forced the Festival to move indoors at the Coliseum the next year. The change of location only made it more popular in spite of early fears that it might lose some of its attraction.
In 1968 it became apparent that the Texas Jazz Festival was a lasting thing, and through the efforts of Wanda Gregory, the Texas Jazz Festival Society came into being as a non-profit corporation organized for civic and educational purposes, the goals of which were (and are) to promote and present the performance of live jazz as an American art form; to showcase local and area talent; to foster tourism in the City of Corpus Christi; to encourage and aid in the education of young jazz artists; and to promote and present the annual Texas Jazz Festival free of charge so that all citizens of South Texas might enjoy the best in American Jazz. The incorporators of the Society were Al "Beto" Garcia, Wanda Gregory, Bill Hipp, Virgil Howard, Eddie Olivares, and Sal Pedraza.
During the next few years, more musicians from greater distances came to play on our Festivals for little or no money, just for the love of it and the honor of appearing on this free Festival because it had an excellent reputation for presenting the best in jazz. A partial list of jazz greats sounds like "Who's Who in the Music World", and here are a few of them: Stan Kenton, Clark Terry, Al Hirt, Cal Tjader, Arnett Cobb, Jimmy Ford, Tony Campise, Warren Covington, the great Mary Lou Williams (who played her own jazz mass, too), Conti Candoli, Plas Johnson, Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, Spyro Gyra, Carl Fontana, Frank Rosolino, Emilio Caceres, Kirk Whalum, Buddy DeFranco, Terry Gibbs, Hank Jones, Jake Hanna, Zoot Sims, vocalists Horace Grigsby, Jewell King, Wanda Gregory, and Carolyn Blanchard, Bu Pleasant, Curt Warren, Fattburger, Jimmy Ford, and Richard Elliott.
In 1987 the Festival featured the great Ramsey Lewis trio, and continuous jazz was going on in three outside locations in the same area, plus on the Peoples Street T-Head, with a shuttle trolley running to and from the T-Head and the Coliseum. That Festival enjoyed immense popularity and attracted approximately 17,000 people. In 1988, through the efforts of Executive Director and Past President Bill Weed, a major change in location occurred when the Festival moved to the beautiful new Watergarden of the Bayfront Plaza Convention Center. That year there were 24 jazz groups, and the Festival has expanded to more groups since that time. In 1993 approximately 43 bands were participating in the 33rd Annual Festival, including Beto y los Fairlanes and Plas Johnson.
In 1994 the Jazz Festival moved back to the Coliseum area where performing artists included jazz greats Kirk Whalum, saxophonist, Louis Bellson, legendary jazz drummer, and Marvin Stamm, trumpeter. A third stage was located in the downtown area to stimulate tourism in that area.
From 1999-2017 Rick Sanchez was elected President of the TJFS. He brought in a new board of directors to work with some of the past board members. Together we have taken the event to a whole new level. The festival was moved to Heritage Park in that same year due to flooding and it seems to have been heaven-sent. Emilio Reyes was elected President from 2018 until his sudden passing in May of 2019. Nick Martinez stepped up to fill the void left by the passing of Emilio Reyes and is the current President. We had and still have 3 stages among the beautiful trees and historic old homes.
The festival has increased the number of bands performing to 50 fantastic bands as well as many more food and arts & crafts vendors. The attendance has increased to over 50,000 over the 3 day weekend and has become known all over the world. The Texas Jazz Festival showcases many of our young talented musicians in the high schools and the university jazz bands all over Texas as well as many great groups from San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Dallas, Mc Allen, New York, New Mexico, New Orleans, Florida, and others. From Americas Youngest Jazz Orchestra (Florida, ages 6-12) to Father Frank Coco from New Orleans, we have had so many talented musicians perform at the festival.
The planning and organization of the annual Texas Jazz Festival, including periodic concerts during the year, are carried out by an all-volunteer board of officers and directors of the Texas Jazz Festival Society, with the help of many volunteers who love jazz. The members of the Society receive two free jazz concerts during the year plus frequent newsletters to advise of jazz happenings; we rely heavily on memberships to help defray costs of the annual Festival. The Board is committed to preserving and presenting the very best in jazz FREE OF CHARGE to the public and passing on to other generations America's indigenous treasure, live jazz -- just for the love of it.