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Jazz series aims to keep intimate concert setting

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Jeff Hamilton of the Jeff Hamilton Trio, which will perform in a benefit concert for Jazz in Salt Lake City.

Jeff Hamilton of the Jeff Hamilton Trio, which will perform in a benefit concert for Jazz in Salt Lake City.

Geoffrey Cheeseman

Gordon Hanks, founder of the Jazz in Salt Lake City series, recently traveled to the Sonoma Jazz Festival. A friend had purchased the best tickets possible on the first day they came available — for $95 each.

"I think we were in the middle, but we were 60 rows back," Hanks said. "But they did something quite smart — on either side of the stage, they had big screens, with people onstage with cameras, shooting the artists.

"Regina Carter came on first and played fabulously, but she was limited to one hour, and then we waited about 40 minutes while they reset the stage, and then Diana (Krall) came on and did maybe 70 minutes, maximum."

Hanks said that the people who put on the festival did a nice job of hosting it, but when you get 4,000 people in a large tent on flat ground ("it would be like Snowbird, but twice as big"), plus a security area in front of the stage, the result is very impersonal.

"As we were sitting there," Hanks said, "I said to (my wife), isn't this interesting that we really made this great effort to go to Sonoma — and in our venue, for $25, you sit 14 feet away from the artist. The artist looks at you in the face, and you look at the artist in the face, and there's an immediate connection, a passion, an emotion."

Hanks is working to preserve that intimate concert experience by presenting a fund-raising concert on Wednesday, featuring the Jeff Hamilton Trio. "This concert is to get us back to even-steven, so we can start up next year without a financial deficit."

Earlier in the season, the Hanks' GAM Foundation, which sponsors the Jazz in Salt Lake City series, announced an end to the regular concert series due to funding problems. But thanks to an enthusiastic response by the community and donors, the GAM foundation is going to be able to continue the series.

Hanks said he's hoping to raise enough funds at this concert to "get out of the hole" and start fresh next year. Ideally, he'd like to establish an endowment during the upcoming year.

As for the benefit Wednesday, Hanks said the venue has been donated, and that Hamilton and his trio are not charging their normal fee but are coming for expenses only. "We've had a wonderful response in the people who have bought tickets," Hanks said. "Almost every one of them has given us a little bit more than the ticket price." He added that there are still seats available, however.

In addition to benefiting the series, the evening promises to be an enjoyable musical experience. Drummer Hamilton and his trio — pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Christoph Luty — will provide "the very best of swinging, mainstream jazz," said Hanks. "(Hamilton) has a brilliant pianist in Tamir Hendelman, and, of course, Jeff, for the last three years, has been awarded Downbeat magazine's 'Drummer of the Year.' It's just mainstream, straight-ahead stuff that is happy, is joyous, is fun, and it's a very tight trio."

Following the concert, Hanks said that Gastronomy will be providing hors d'oeuvres for a reception.

If you go . . .

What: Jeff Hamilton Trio, Jazz in Salt Lake City benefit concert

Where: Vieve Gore Concert Hall, Westminster College, 1840 S. 1300 East

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

How much: $100

Phone: 278-0411

E-mail: rcline@desnews.com