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'Mm mm Good' jazz festival set at Boyce

| Thursday, July 19, 2007

Monroeville has an annual jazz festival because St. Bernadette Church needed a pipe organ, the festival's founder said.

Chuck Summerville, president of the Monroeville Jazz Festival, said he came up with the idea of presenting an evening of jazz to help raise the $10,000 needed to finish paying for the pipe organ.

The 1999 event featured the Al Dowe Quintet.

"We raised more than $10,000. We had about 300 people show up," Summerville said.

St. Bernadette's held a second event a month after the 9/11 terrorist attack. Joe Negri performed his new jazz Mass, followed by the Al Dowe Quintet.

The turnout encouraged Summerville to form the Monroeville Jazz Festival and start organizing the first show. The fifth, slated for July 28, features two local bands -- the Craig Davis Trio and Joe Negri Quartet -- and international performer Marlene VerPlanck.

VerPlanck -- the voice of Campbell Soup's "Mm mm good..." song -- has 19 CDs and a long career as a studio musician, backing up singers from Frank Sinatra to KISS. She performs concerts across North America and parts of Western Europe.

She said Summerville had a tough chore booking her.

"I'm very hard to get. You've got to ask me," she said with a laugh. "If it's good enough for Mr. Negri, it's good enough for me."

Things haven't always been so easy for the festival, according to Summerville.

"Our first year was sort of a bust," he said.

The 2003 festival was indoors, lasted three days and occurred in the fall. That last factor was the most significant.

"We were competing against Friday night high school football," Summerville said.

In 2004, the festival was trimmed to one summer day and held outdoors. It became a free event.

"That's worked out quite nicely. We support ourselves through government grants and corporate sponsors," Summerville said.

Allegheny County kicks in the equivalent of about $25,000 by providing a mobile sound stage and lighting. Otherwise, the festival operates on a $10,000 budget, and the state provides about half of the money. Monroeville donates another $1,000. Private and corporate sponsors make up the rest of the $4,000 needed.

Most of the money goes to advertising and artist fees.

Summerville said one concern about this year's festival is that Parkway East construction might discourage jazz enthusiasts from making the trip.

The festival is conducting its first audience survey through Coldwell Banker, which will hand out free bottled water in return for people filling out a short survey.

"Hopefully, we'll have some answers, but right now I can't say where they're coming from," Summerville said.

Additional Information:

If you go

What: Monroeville Jazz Festival

When: 5 p.m., July 28, at Boyce Park

How much: Free and open to the public

Performers: Craig Davis Trio, Joe Negri Quartet and Marlene VerPlanck

For more information: www.monroevillejazz.org

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