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Back before an audience: Pappy Martin jazz festival wraps up annual event Sunday

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The annual jazz festival, traditionally held two weekends in July, got to return to live performances this year after COVID forced it to play virtually in 2020.

Dawn Berry-Walker, daughter of the late Pappy Martin and chair of the jazz collective named in his memory, explains that both her parents were musicians. Her mother was a concert bassist, while her father was trained to play trumpet.

But then a need for a jazz bassist steered her father toward that instrument.

“Once some band was coming through Niagara Falls to pick up my uncle, the legendary saxophonist Spider Martin, and they needed a bassist. And so my mother gave my father some few short lessons, and the bandleader agreed to take them on the road and learn as he went. It was just what happened,” she said.

The annual Pappy Martin Legacy Masten Jazz Festival is held traditionally in the last two weekends of July. The first set of performances were held last weekend. Scheduled to perform July 25 are the Love Supreme School of Music, Nat Reeves State of Emergency Band, Curtis Lundy and Umoja, and the Ron Carter Trio.

Carter currently holds the Guinness World Record for most recorded jazz bassist.

Berry-Walker says jazz is this nation’s only original art form, but admits it’s no longer seen as the music which identifies America. She hopes the annual festival helps preserve and rekindle a public love of jazz.

She, for one, was surrounded by it in Buffalo.

“My cousins lived upstairs over the legendary Bon Ton Club on East Ferry. And so when our parents would go downstairs to hear various artists, from John Coltrane, Ramsey Lewis, the children - there were 13 of us all together - we would just lay on the floor and listen to the music,” she recalls. “So this is the music I grew up with. And then right there on East Ferry, there was the Revilot, a few blocks away. The Pine Grill, one more block. The Royal Arms, in walking distance. And so I grew up in a time where jazz was in the air all the time.”

Sunday’s music begins at 3 p.m. and is free to the public.