Arts July 31, 2008

Sun Valley Swing ‘n’ Dixie

The phrase “all that jazz” has special meaning here.

You might think Sun Valley is a ski town but it’s also very much a jazz town. Every October, lovers of Dixieland, swing and Big Band sounds travel to Sun Valley Village for five days of the music America invented.

They come in travel trailers and plug into power poles in resort parking lots and they rent every room in the resort and most of those in nearby Ketchum.

Many of them are retired and others have planned their vacation very carefully. Plenty of the listeners are locals or Idaho residents while others arrive from Canada, New England, Florida and Europe. Wherever they hail from, they are enthusiastic about the particular kind of music known to the world as jazz.

Carol Waller, executive director for the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau, said the Sun Valley Swing ‘n’ Dixie Jazz Jamboree draws 7,000 or more people to the area and is one of the highlights of the entire year.

Running Wednesday through Saturday, Oct. 17-21, the event features music in 13 locations at the same time along with movies on important band leaders and musicians. An amateur dance contest in its third year brings young dancers from Utah as well as those who still remember the ballrooms filled with Big Band orchestras after the Second World War.

Sun Valley started hosting the Swing ‘n’ Dixie Jazz Jamboree 18 years ago when Boise residents Barbara and Tom Hazzard approached the resort with an idea to fill rooms during the slow season. After Tom Hazzard died, his daughter and son-in-law, Carol and Jeff Loehr, took over booking the bands and arranging the festival.

“It requires passion,” said Carol Loehr. “Our world-class musicians play from their hearts and it all comes together in this flurry of fun for five days each year.”

Each year, the festival has grown, drawing fanatically loyal fans that follow certain bands. Other people are willing to listen to new bands and fill out evaluation forms telling the organizers what they thought.

This article appears in the Summer 2007 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.