Grugelfest brings jazz lovers to Downtown ToledoWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
When people ask local jazz artist “Ragtime” Rick Grafing what Grugelfest is, he tells them “do a Grugel search and you’ll find it.”
Grugelfest is actually a traditional jazz festival taking place Sept. 14-16 at the Park Inn by Radisson. Grafing, the festival co-chair, said the name is a tribute to his friend Ralph Grugel, the trombonist and leader of the Eagle Jazz band, who died in 2005.
“Ralph Grugel was a huge fellow. He was very tall and wide, much bigger than I am, and he was a marvelous bandleader and master of ceremonies and also a good trombone player. But he was exceptional as a bandleader. He would get five or six guys together and they would play and even guys who were not necessarily top-notch players would rise to the occasion when they played with Ralph,” Grafing said.
The fest will feature five bands that specialize in New Orleans-style jazz, aka traditional jazz or Dixieland jazz, a term Grafing doesn’t like.
“Dixieland is a very bad term because it has lots of different meanings and most of them are wrong,” he said. “Today there’s an awful lot of guys that don’t really know how to play jazz but they dress up in white shirts and red vests and straw hats and they read charts and they call themselves Dixieland jazz bands and they’re terrible. That’s not what this festival is.”
The term Dixieland comes from the Original Dixieland Jass Band, the first group to record jazz in 1917. “Jass” comes from the traditional spelling of jazz.
“In the days when Louis Armstrong and King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton were playing this music, it was just called jazz. Later jazz evolved into bebop and then swing and took all these different directions,” Grafing said.
Grafing is the leader of the band Chefs of Dixieland and piano player in the Cakewalkin’ Jass Band, which will play at Grugelfest.
“I loved the [New Orleans jazz]. To me, it’s very much like classical music. It’s beautiful and powerful,” said Ray Heitger, the leader and clarinet player for the Cakewalkin’ Jass Band. Heitger’s band played at Tony Packo’s from 1968-2001 and will mark its 45-year anniversary this winter.
Rosie O’Grady’s Good Time Jazz Band from Orlando, Fla., Buffalo Ridge Jazz Band from Cincinnati, the Easy Street Jazz Band from Ann Arbor and the Sunset Stomp Jazz Band from Indianapolis will also play Grugelfest. The festival features four sessions and each band will play twice each session (once in the hotel’s ballroom and once in the lounge).
At 10 a.m. Sept. 16, a Dixieland worship service will take place at the Bethel Lutheran Church, 1853 South Ave. The Sunset Stomp Jazz Band will play at the service.
“It’ll be a typical Sunday morning church service with the exception of the choir and organ won’t be providing the music, an eight-piece Dixieland jazz band will be providing the music,” Grafing said. After the service, there will be a chicken barbecue meal.
Ragtime pianist Bob Milne will play during the meal.
Grafing decided to start Grugelfest after the popular EARLYJAS Fall Festival in Strongsville, Ohio, folded last year due to lack of volunteers. Grafing was a longtime supporter of the festival that was a jazz staple for 20 years.
“We made the decision last year. We don’t have the volunteers to do the work that’s necessary to set it up. That’s just a function of the fact that our people are getting older and older,” said Jim Emert, EARLYJAS president.
“When I heard about it, I was like, ‘Man, you can’t stop that! You can’t end the festival! Oh, no!’” Grafing said, waving his arms. Luckily, the festival’s organizers gave Grafing a planning template and financial receipts to help him get started on his own festival.
“Essentially, what he’s doing is replacing the festival that we had but putting his own spin on it,” Emert said. “I’m hoping the festival will do as well for him as it did for us.”
“For me, that was one of the big pieces of the puzzle, that we get to keep the music going. Another piece of the puzzle was we get to bring some business into Downtown Toledo, which is something that’s important to me,” Grafing said. He owned a jazz venue, Ragtime Rick’s First Draught, for 22 years in the area.
Another part of the “puzzle” for Grafing is helping people. Grugelfest will benefit the Children’s Dyslexia Center-NWO.
The center has 14 trained tutors who teach children with dyslexia about spelling and reading. It moved from its location on Indian Wood Circle to Maumee Union Elementary School about a month ago.
The center uses the Orton-Gillingham method, a multisensory technique, said the center’s director, Diane McCreery.
“It works very well for these children. It’s basically the only way some of them can learn to read,” she said.
Between 15-20 percent of the population has dyslexia, McCreery said.
“With dyslexia, the language part of the brain does not work well. It’s not developed properly. So what we do is reteach the brain so that it uses the neuro pathways that it’s supposed to be using,” she said.
“[People with dyslexia] don’t see the letters backward or see the letters mixed up. They see it the way it is, but then their brain processes it differently. It goes in correctly, but it comes out incorrectly,” she said.
The center was started by the 32° Masons in 1998. Until 2005, the Masonic organization paid for everything. Now it contributes $50,000 per year and the center must come up with the other $60,000 of its budget.
Until recently, the Valley of Toledo, Scottish Rite provided a space for the center, but is no longer able to. In addition to the $60,000 for its operations, the center must now come up with rent money for its new location. Following Grugelfest, the center will have a walkathon 1 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Swan Creek Metropark to raise money.
“[The center is] up to their necks in issues and problems, things that they will solve, but it’s not automatic,” Grafing said.
“I’m just very impressed that these teachers take these kids … and they teach them how to read and change their lives forever for the better,” he said.
The tutors, who will work with 25 students this school year, go through 45 hours of training that would normally cost $6,000-$7,000. They do not receive payment for the first 100 hours and are compensated with $20 per hour after that. There is currently a waiting list of about 20 children for the program.
Tickets to Grugelfest are available at ticketmaster.com. An all-sessions ticket is $120. Individual sessions cost $40. The sessions are 6 p.m. Sept. 14, 11 a.m. Sept. 15, 6 p.m. Sept. 15 and 11:30 a.m. Sept. 16. Patron tickets are $150 and include reserved seating, Sept. 15 breakfast and other perks. There is additional stage space for piano players and small groups. The Park Inn by Radisson is at 101 N. Summit St. For more information, visit grugelfest.com. Contact McCreery at email@example.com.