Litchfield Performing Arts, The Beginning
Litchfield Performing Arts started by accident and because geography is destiny. My husband and I owned an enormous historic house in Litchfield with a living room that could seat 100 people. So one day we did, seat them. We invited the public to join us for a classical guitar concert, and the concerts never stopped, not for 20 years. A doctor friend put our mailing list on the computer, and two lawyers incorporated us as a not-for-profit. From the start we brought musicians into schools as soon as I heard a wonderful violinist say he became a musician because he was moved by a musician visiting his school. We continued with classical music, at homes and churches, and outreach concerts in jails and nursing homes, wherever people needed music, for more than two decades. We presented groups like the Cleveland, the Tokyo and the Emerson Quartets; pianists like Richard Goode and Randall Hodgkinson; guitarists like Eliot Fisk and so many others. We founded a piano competition now run for us by Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford. Fourteen years ago we developed, and still run, a year-round project for middle schoolers, some 1300 a year, teaching poetry, music, art and dance called Project Poetry Live!. For four summers we ran a dance camp in tandem with our jazz camp that is now spun off. We ran a non-competitive jazz festival for middle school, high school and college bands in partnership with Western Connecticut State University for some ten years, to name just a few of our endeavors.
By far, however, our biggest successes are our current key programs, The Litchfield Jazz Festival and Litchfield Jazz Camp. The festival began in 1996 with the aid of a small grant from the ever-supportive Connecticut Commission on the Arts (now Culture and Tourism). Out of the box, it presented a festival seasoned presenters would have been proud to put on: Ahmad Jamal, J.J. Johnson, Terence Blanchard, Thomas Chapin, Mario Pavone, Larry Goldings, Marty Erhlich, Carl Allen and many others, and introducing the then unknown pianist/vocalist, Diana Krall. Not bad for a start up.
The following year, with our unmitigated devotion to arts education, we started a jazz camp. It was a day camp for 32 students, ages 13 to 51, and those who could not pay didn’t have to. The basic philosophy of Litchfield Jazz Camp has not changed: it admits all comers, all ages, all instruments but now they stay overnight for up to a month and there are more than 350 of them at Canterbury School in the warm and exciting town of New Milford, CT. They all still play at the festival, as they did that first year, and get to hear and learn from the best artists jazz has to offer.
Vita West Muir
Founder and Executive/Artistic Director