- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

The 11th annual East Coast Jazz Festival provides an opportunity to hear both jazz greats and up-and-coming musicians.

This year, it's scheduled Thursday through Feb. 17 at the Doubletree Hotel Rockville, 1750 Rockville Pike. The festival features ticketed concerts, free performances, workshops, seminars, nightly jam sessions, high school and college bands, dance ensembles, exhibitors and a Sunday jazz matins service.

Ronnie Wells-Elliston of Silver Spring, director of the event, says she is looking forward to the sundry activities, with performers such as California blues singer Ernie Andrews, Mississippi musician Mose Allison, New York City pianist Bruce Barth, New Jersey saxophonist Richie Cole and Washington bassist Keter Betts.

"Our mission is to perpetuate jazz by presenting an annual series," Ms. Wells-Elliston says. "We assist in the educational and artistic development of jazz artists."

At 7 p.m. Thursday, the Big Band Blast will give high school groups, such as the Walter Johnson High School Jazz Ensemble of Bethesda, a chance to play with seasoned jazz artists.

"This is where our goals take on life," Ms. Wells-Elliston says. "We also have an internship program where about 40 students volunteer throughout the entire festival. We teach them the ins and outs of managing an event such as this."

Ms. Wells-Elliston says the festival started as a result of her interest in assisting emerging musicians. She formed the Fish Middleton Jazz Scholarship Fund to give scholarships to aspiring jazz artists. After paying production costs, the money raised from the festival goes toward three scholarships of $3,000, $2,000 and $1,500 each.

"Fish Middleton was a radio programmer for WPFW, 89.3 FM, during the 1960s and 1970s," she says. "He was a wonderful friend and associate of mine. He did lots of things to support the development of new artists. In his honor, I started the scholarship fund."

Saxophonist Mark Small of Norwalk, Conn., saxophonist Patrick Cornelius of Plano, Texas, and saxophonist Greg Ward II of Peoria, Ill., won last year's scholarship competition. This year's 10 semifinalists from among the 51 applicants compete at 3 p.m. Friday.

"We are bringing last year's winners back to perform at this year's festival," Ms. Wells-Elliston says. "This year's first-place winner performs in the jazz series at Montpelier Cultural Arts Center in Laurel."

For information on the festival, call 301/949-3481.

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