Akron has rhythm – in fact, it has a rich history of jazz and blues dating to the 1940s and ‘50s along the city’s very own Howard Street.
This rich history has inspired Akron-native Theron Brown to give talented local musicians the opportunity to express themselves, discover new audiences and show off the vibrant music scene in the city today.
Out of this desire, Brown partnered with music education organization Open Tone Music to establish the Rubber City Jazz & Blues Festival. Now in its third year, the festival will take place Aug. 23 through 26, and will feature events centered around the historical theme of “The Rhythms of Akron.”
Brown describes the festival as a “one-stop shop” to hear many of northeast Ohio and Akron’s favorite jazz musicians.
“There’s a vibe in Akron that’s been left behind by our forefathers and carried on by the talent today,” he says. “You can always hear music, any night of the week. This festival has uncovered a spark of energy in our community. People not only see the great talent we have in our city, but they also see how it brings life to our area.”
Growing up, Brown’s background was mainly in gospel music, as he played the piano in church. He first connected with jazz music in high school when a guest cellist came to the school to help prepare the students for band concerts.
“On the last day that the cellist was at our school, he gave me a gift that changed my life,” said Brown. “He gave me my first jazz music book and a CD that had a bunch of Thelonious Monk tunes on it. As some may know, Thelonious Monk is a bit obscure, but I was attracted to his harmony, rhythm and grit. At that point, I decided that I should go to school for jazz piano, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
With his newfound passion, Brown has made an effort to spread appreciation for jazz and blues, founding the Rubber City Jazz & Blues Festival in 2016.
This year’s (entirely free!) festival will kick off on Thursday, Aug. 23 at Blu Jazz+ with a jam session by Brown, his trio and other musicians. On Aug. 24 and 25, the festival will feature its solo and dueling piano series called “Piano Palooza,” which will begin at the Akron Art Museum and migrate to the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s Main Library Auditorium.
Other highlights of this year’s festival include: a documentary presentation (Aug. 24) and performance (Aug. 25) by Justin Kauflin, who is an extremely gifted, blind pianist; a dance and live music party at Blu Jazz+ with Nathan-Paul & The Admirables (Aug. 24) and Sammy De Leon y su Orquesta and Funkyard (Aug. 25); and a finale “Be a Miracle” concert on Sunday, Aug. 26 at Burning Bush Church, featuring the high-energy gospel band, Judah Band.
“I’m extremely excited about this festival and all the people who are coming to Akron to perform,” said Brown. “This is such a great opportunity for young people to find a deeper meaning and connection to jazz music and to themselves. At the end of the day, the earlier you find your own pure purpose in music, it helps define your sound.”