Tannersville bets big on arts; launches third season of Jazz Factory

Piers Playfair and his wife Lucy believe that the arts are the key to economic development in the Catskills.

“It’s important we have a strong artistic spine,” Playfair said.

The couple decided to bring renowned jazz musicians to the Catskills two years ago, when they founded the Catskill Jazz Factory -- a series of performances, workshops, and master classes -- in the Greene County hamlet of Tannersville.

The Jazz Factory, which kicks off its 2014 season tomorrow night, was such a success that the Playfairs are making it the highlight of new organization that plans to run year-round arts programming in and around Tannersville.

The new initiative, which launched this summer, is called the 23Arts Initiative (23Ai for short), and is named after Route 23A, which runs through Tannersville.

Aside from the Jazz Factory, 23Ai’s inaugural summer season will feature parades, performances and artists in venues across the Greene County. The group is planning some shows in a few unconventional spaces, such as a church, an arboretum, and local taverns, restaurants, and inns.

Fawn Potash, a board member on the Greene County Council on the Arts, says that the Playfairs' gambit to bring business to the Catskills through the arts is paying off.

“The arts and culture groups in Greene County are starting to achieve a critical mass and excellence that is attracting audiences across county lines and drawing a lot more attention from NYC visitors,” she said. "You are developing a local audience and potentially inspiring future performers while creating arts tourism worth driving 100 miles."

The Jazz Factory kicks off tomorrow night with the "Harlem on the Hudson Experience" at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson. It's a curated performance led by legendary jazz pianist Marcus Roberts featuring 20 musicians including Roberts, Jason Marsalis, Charenee Wade, Ron Westray and Chris Washburne.

The group will re-create the classic "1940s jam sessions that were regular occurrences at Harlem venues like Minton’s Playhouse," according to the Catskills Jazz Factory's website.

Later this week, the jazz musicians return to Tannersville for a series of lectures, master classes, late-night jam sessions and a concert by four ensembles, including Roberts’ 12-piece Modern Jazz Generation.

For the rest of 23Ai's inaugural season, Playfair asked the Tannersville community what it wanted in arts programming. The results are diverse: This summer, the organization is sponsoring the Mountain Top Car Show and Festival, the Catskill High Peaks Festival, a big band swing night, and several performances by professional musicians including cellist Yehuda Hanani, flutist Eugenia Zukerman and Emmy-nominated blues artist Professor Louie.

Another key component of the program’s mission is to promote arts education — presenting opportunities for young people to learn and participate. Playfair said 23Ai will conduct clinics with local high school marching bands as well as host a series of residencies and summer school programs.

By bringing notable artists and musicians to the area, Playfair said he hopes to heighten Tannersville’s status as a regional destination for quality arts.

“Our goal is to expose audiences of all ages and tastes to all sorts of different art forms and creative outlets - community impact, inclusivity, and partnerships with high-quality professional artists are key in what we are doing this summer," said Playfair in a statement on his website. "We want to create the unique energy which comes when community, young professional artists and outstanding talent are brought together.”

The Catskill Jazz Factory's Joy of Jazz Week, Aug. 5-9. Tannersville and Annandale-on-Hudson. For a list of jazz events, go to catskilljazzfactory.org. For a full schedule of 23Arts Initiative events, go to 23arts.org/events-calendar.