Every year, an unlikely click descends on Watertown’s historic downtown square for a niche festival that some might find out of place in the small, rural town.
Watertown Jazz Festival organizer John Jewell said that uniqueness is precisely the point.
“I have always looked at business ventures I have done in my life in two ways,” Jewell said. “For starters, you have to have the money and the effort to do a project, but you also have to think ... ‘What is something that nobody has ever done?’ That takes a real stroke.”
Jewell’s mission each year is to throw a festival unlike any other offerings in Wilson County.
“What is a popular thing that is not done here,” Jewell inquisitively said. “There is not a program of this size in Wilson County. Country music and gospel music are great genres. If we had the ability, we would do those as well. But jazz seemed to be very unique.”
Jewell acknowledged that jazz might not have a huge fan base, but what it lacks in numbers, it makes up for in tenacity.
“Jazz may not be as popular (as other genres), but it does have a strong, intense following,” Jewell said. “Jazz enthusiasts, we find, are willing to travel pretty good distances for a good program.”
The proximity to Nashville presented Jewell with a vast pool of talent to explore.
“With the music atmosphere in Nashville, there is a jazz presence there,” Jewell said. “The recording industry in Nashville does everything. When you have a recording industry of the size and vastness in Nashville, it requires a deep pool of studio musicians. They are excellent. They have to be able to be on an album. And they have to be versatile.”
Like any musical genre, jazz can be separated into several subcategories. Jewell indicated that the goal of the Watertown Jazz Festival is to offer many of those subcategories to give attendees a wide sample of the genre.
Last year, Gabe Lamog got his first taste of the Watertown Jazz Festival when he and the Nightingale Big Band performed a Latin jazz set. Lamog’s group is not as large this year, but they will be back, bringing their Latin jazz to the square. The fact that Watertown has garnered its reputation as a jazz destination stands out to the Los Angeles transplant, who has lived in Middle Tennessee since 1994.
“In a place as small as Watertown in Wilson County, you would think it would be a local thing with many local artists,” Lamog said. “But they also reach out to world-renowned artists.”
The festival’s openness to different styles sticks out to the Latin jazz musician, who couldn’t believe the diverse lineup that he was part of last year.
“You would think they might just be into bluegrass, folk, or country,” Lamog said. “To have jazz in this place, I think, is a great thing. It only puts more culture into the area. When you think of jazz, you would think of big cities. To be in Watertown is just awesome.”
Joey DeFrancesco is headlining the festival this year.
On Wednesday, Gloria DeFrancesco indicated that her husband was excited to be playing a niche festival like the one in Watertown.
“When they reached out to us about playing the festival, they said, ‘We are a small festival, just a group of people who love music and jazz,’ ” DeFrancesco said. “They wanted to expand music, particularly jazz, and get the word out to people in the Nashville area to come in and enjoy the music. Joey is more than happy to be a part of that.”
As DeFrancesco put it, good music is a calling for her husband.
“The thing about Joey is that he can go in any direction,” DeFrancesco said. “He loves all music. He is primarily a jazz musician, but he loves it all. Good music is music.”
The event starts at 1 p.m. and lasts until 10 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to bring a foldable chair.