Heads nodded, feet tapped and bodies swayed to the sounds of Grammy Award-winning jazz artist Kirk Whalum, headliner for Sunday’s Jazz Fest in Central Square to conclude the 15th annual Summer Festival of the Arts.
SounDoctrine, a local jazz group, opened the festivities at 7 p.m., followed by Whalum and friends about 8:30 p.m.
Dressed in everything from clubbing clothes to jeans, the estimated 400 to 500 people crowded into Central Square to enjoy the music, the night and participate in what several who were interviewed described as the resurgence of downtown Youngstown.
Laura Neely of Youngs-town, one of the cadre of Jazz Fest volunteers, said she has loved jazz since she was young, but also saw Sunday night’s event as a chance to enjoy music and an opportunity for the community to come together.
Jim and Kalyn Sharow of Liberty came for the music.
Jim said he is a longtime jazz fan; and Kalyn said she was turned on to jazz while playing sax in the Liberty High School Jazz Band.
Nothrice “Note” Pates of Youngstown is a big fan of the Whalum group, but also saw the event as a time when people of all colors and nationalities and ages can come enjoy themselves.
“Music is a universal language that brings people together,” she said.
Pates said the Jazz Fest is a step in the right direction, but urged entertainment venues in the Youngstown area to bring in more events that appeal to African-Americans.
Larry and Jeri Schuler of Beaver Township like jazz, but also support many downtown Youngstown events.
“It is an eclectic mix of people,” Jeri said.
“Youngstown is a melting pot and it’s nice to see that. A lot of young people are picking up on that, too,” Larry added.
Youngstown mayoral candidate DeMaine Kitchen and his wife, Leslie, and daughters, Olivia, Savannah and Amber, were in the audience for the event he called good for the city.
“I’ve became a jazz fan over the past few years. The older I get, the more I appreciate it,” he said.
One of the luckiest members of the crowd was Annette Viano of Youngstown.
Viano won a certificate Saturday at the Lemon Grove pre-jazz festival to have her picture taken with Whalum.
However, because she could not afford a ticket, she called the Lemon Grove and urged that the certificate be given to someone else “so it wouldn’t be wasted.”
Instead, the Lemon Grove gave Viano two tickets to the event for her and a guest.
“The Youngstown community came through for me. It just goes to show there are good people in the Mahoning Valley,” she said.