The jazzmen came to Shady Side in summer and played into the night. There was food and drink and neighbors gathered on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay to hear city music in the country air. It was a start.
Over the years, the crowds swelled to hundreds and the musicians brought their buddies to play big band and Dixieland. Shady Side swungthis way in summer for about 20 years off and on, sparking an idea in the mind of Tom Coleman, founder of the jazz band summers.
Coleman had moved his family back near his beloved Chesapeake Bayin 1973, after years pursuing his writing/public relations career from Washington to Nebraska to Pittsburgh to Silver Spring. The man whoonce sang in a World War II-era quartet called the Brigadeers brought with him a love of jazz and a desire to share music, art and dance.
The ultimate result was South County Cultural Arts Inc., which next month marks the second anniversary of its first concert, and in May will present its biggest show yet, the Ballet Theater of Annapolis.
"When I got down here," said Coleman, "my wife and I would drive up to Washington quite often" for concerts. They'd drive to shows in Baltimore and Annapolis, Coleman said, but saw the need for somethingcloser.
That's how the informal jazz summers were born in the early 1970s, as "we started inviting our jazz musician friends here."
They were mostly Washington-based musicians, men who Coleman knew through singing jazz and hanging around jazz clubs. Most never heard ofShady Side when they started; soon they were driving down with theirfamilies and spending a summer weekend playing, eating, drinking.
Later, when Coleman and two other incorporators formed South County Cultural Arts, his personal connections paid off. He induced the Navy's jazz group "The Commodores" to play the organization's first concert on March 16, 1990. The group packed Our Lady of Sorrows Hall in Owensville, returned to the church hall the following year and will be back this year on March 28.
Another group, the South County Concert Association, was around before Coleman's, but presented shows only for subscription ticket buyers. The Ballet Theater's presentation of "Alice in Wonderland" at Southern High School on May 3 will be the Coleman group's first paid-admission show.
South County Cultural Arts, Inc., a non-profit organization funded through contributions and government grants, staged eight concerts the first year with a budget of $2,600. Last year, the group expanded its budget to $11,200 and branched out with two art shows, a puppet show, sing-alongs for people in local nursing homes and 14 concerts. Coleman said he knew the organization had arrived when the crowds leaving last year's July Fourth concert and fireworks show in Galesville caused a mile-long traffic jam on Route 468.
"I was overwhelmed," said Coleman. "I could not believe the whole thing."
This year, Coleman was overwhelmed by anxiety over county budget cuts. After he signed agreements with the Ballet Theater of Annapolis -- a $5,000 deal -- and with the Concert Band of America, the county announced it would cut the $6,000 it had setaside for Cultural Arts, dropping the proposed budget from $15,000 to $9,000. The county restored half the cut, a check for $3,300.
"Iput that money in the bank so fast," said Coleman.
Coleman divides his time between Cleremont, Fla. and Shady Side, where he lives four or five months of the year. He says that's enough time to do the fund-raising and bookkeeping, sign up the acts, find the locations and scout talent.
"It's nothing that makes me sweat," he said. "It's just knowing where the people are."