The Hot Springs Jazz Society brings the fun and festivities of Mardi Gras to the Spa City for an evening that showcases the essence of jazz.
By Jillian McGehee | Photography by Sara Reeves
The Hot Springs Jazz Society provides scholarships and programs that enrich the community – cumulatively 2,200 patrons, students and musicians benefitted last year. The organization’s much-anticipated Mardi Gras-themed event is a fun, festive evening that generates significant funding for this mission fulfillment work. Under the leadership of volunteers like Bill Freeman, “who are the essence of the Jazz Society,” says Executive Director Gretchen Taylor, the costume ball and contest continues to exceed the expectations of its guests.
Bill is vice chairman and president of the Mardi Gras Costume Ball & Contest. A publisher and printing broker, he moved to Hot Springs from Houston in 2009 after enjoying the Spa City’s amenities as a visitor for two decades. He discovered the Jazz Society, attended a musical event and joined the Board of Directors – serving as president for two years.
Dubbed “the best party of the year,” the evening is a quintessential opportunity to engage the public, promote jazz and generate support for the organization’s many projects, Bill explains. “The Mardi Gras venue seemed like the perfect match in Hot Springs, so we decided to create a fun party that would bring in revenue.
The Jazz Society – established to perpetuate, preserve and promote jazz music – celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. President Shirley Chauvin, a former professional singer from Texas, helped establish the Jazz Society. Jazz enthusiasts from Hot Springs joined with a small Hot Springs Village jazz group, Shirley notes, to create a more viable organization with better funding opportunities.
“We knew this art form had to be presented to our young citizens, thus we developed a scholarship award – sending qualified music students to the Drury Campus summer jazz camp in Missouri and the University of Arkansas at Monticello,” Shirley explains.
The Mardi Gras Costume Ball & Contest provides necessary resources for music students from across the state to attend the summer jazz camp, notes Gretchen. Proceeds also support the many free concerts held throughout the year in Hot Springs, such as the collaboration with the Garland County Library each winter and the outdoor Jazz in the Streets during the annual Hot Springs JazzFest. It also provides a funding mechanism for the Arkansas Jazz Experience that is presented monthly during spring and summer – keeping ticket costs reasonable for patrons. Shirley adds that attendance to these events is remarkable, often with “standing room only.”
Gretchen points out that each Jazz Society board member carries the task of an event or project as his or her own. “They enlist our membership to help in the tasks needed to complete the many events and scholarships the Society provides throughout the year.”
The ball features some of the “greatest music and costumes,” Bill adds, with cash prizes. Two big bands – Dixieland with the Spa City Stompers and Dizzy Seven – will provide live entertainment for dancing. Hotel Hot Springs & Spa is offering special Mardi Gras rates for guests, making it the perfect opportunity to spend the weekend in the Spa City.
Bill’s dedication to the Jazz Society and the Mardi Gras Costume Ball & Contest is unwavering, Shirley explains. “He created an outstanding event that has been enjoyed by Central Arkansas for four years. He has steadily improved this gala with his business acumen and knowledge.”