There’s nothing quite like the first weekend of May in Oak Park. Talk about competition. Consider the choices: The annual District 97 EthnicFest Parade and multicultural festival; the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation’s annual gala; Jazzin’ Oak Park, the Oak Park Area Arts Council’s annual scholarship jazz concert benefit; Danza Viva’s Talent Search 2006 competition at several local venues; plays at Open Door Repertory, Village Players, and Circle theaters; the annual John Toomey auction of art and artfully designed furniture; Hephzibah’s annual Let’s Go Kiddieland fundraiser at Kiddieland; Oak Park Conservatory’s Herb and Scented Plant Sale; the annual CROP Walk to raise money to fight hunger; the annual Walk for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine, which competes with the annual Walk with Israel; the annual Free Comic Book Giveaway Day at One Stop Comics and Cards; the Oak Park Council on International Affairs annual meeting (building schools worldwide); and youth baseball and softball games on every available diamond. That is by no means an exhaustive list though it’s exhausting to read.
I can vouch for the Jazzin’ Oak Park event, “An Evening with Patricia Barber.” At first it seemed it would be “An Evening with Cedric Melton,” who poured himself into warming up the crowd to the point where you wondered if the musicians would ever be allowed onstage.
Ars Nova, a group of remarkably proficient local jazz musicians who attended (or are still attending) Oak Park and River Forest High School, played first. Barely 20, this fivesome does indeed, as Cedric the entertaining put it, seem destined for greater things. When Michelle Mbekeani joined in and vocally torched “Summertime,” I started wondering if the featured act would have trouble competing.
Not to worry. There is a marked difference, we discovered (and let’s hope Ars Nova stuck around) between “remarkably good” and “really good.” Barber and her crew comfortably occupy a stage of career development that these kids no doubt aspire to. At any rate Barber seemed comfortable enough to kick off her shoes and play the piano barefoot.
The setting was attractive. Oak Park’s Almost Art Center provides an interesting visual backdrop of pillars and corn-row-motif metal screen, artfully lit. The seats are tolerable for the first two hours, but the lack of padding numbs the backside by hour three. And it was overly warm in the mostly full auditorium.
Still, Barber and her backups conjured enchantment aplenty to offset the drawbacks.
Too bad that on a direct diagonal across Scoville Park from the Art Center, jazz vocalist Spider Saloff was probably doing the exact same thing for those who attended the Unity Temple gala instead.
And the following day, Oak Parkers planned no less than three different walks for worthy causes. At least those were staggered, so you could walk all day long if you wanted.
I’ve mentioned this phenomenon in the past, and efforts were made to coordinate a village events calendar, but it never came together. Maybe the goal was too ambitious. Maybe all we really need to coordinate is the first weekend of May.
Why the two most notable jazz events in recent memory had to be held the same night at the same time is certainly a puzzle. Whenever I raise this issue, I hear the same response. No one wants to schedule anything on Mother’s Day weekend, and Wright Plus has the third weekend locked up, followed by Memorial Day weekend.
But I would have taken my mother to hear either Spider Saloff or Patricia Barber the night before Mother’s Day. She loves jazz. And why can’t Unity Temple’s gala be held the same weekend as the country’s greatest Frank Lloyd Wright housewalk? They are, after all, complementary.
People put a lot of time into planning these events. It’s a shame they have to conflict. Is this something the Oak Park Area Convention and Visitors Bureau could help coordinate?
Something to think about for next May.
But it was still a glorious weekend?#34;and May is just beginning.