The renowned Chicago jazz artist Ernest Dawkins and The Young Masters will headline the 8th-annual Bill Bell Jazz & Heritage Festival.

One of the world’s premier jazz saxophonists and composers, the 68-year-old Dawkins leads several ensembles, including the New Horizons Ensemble, Aesop Quartet, Chicago Trio, Live the Spirit Big Band, and the Chicago 12.

Dawkins and his band — The Young Masters, some of the best and brightest high school and college-aged musicians from Live the Spirit Residency’s training program — will perform as part of the free fest, Sunday, Aug. 21, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Rivermont Collegiate, Bettendorf.

Ernest Dawkins

Dawkins has recorded, collaborated on, and curated dozens of records, and his publishing company, Dawk Music and Live the Spirit Publishing together have 15 releases to date. One of his main roles is the part-time executive director and sole employee at Live the Spirit Residency, a nonprofit Dawkins founded in 2007 that offers free jazz education programs for youth and seniors, and presents the free annual Englewood Jazz Festival in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.

Events at MLK Park and Rivermont

The QC Bill Bell Jazz & Heritage Festival is all free — Friday, Aug. 19 from 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 20 from noon to 10 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 21, from 3 to 8 p.m. The performers include Wes Julien with Club Crib, Piso’s Cure, The Channel Cats, James Culver and Kuchina Jazz 3, Manuel Lopez & Daniel Leahy, Saul Lubaroff & Andy Parrott, and Charlotte Blu.

Charlotte Blu of Rock Island will perform at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19 at MLK Park, 630 9th St., Rock Island.

Friday and Saturday will take place at Martin Luther King Park, 630 9th St., Rock Island, and Sunday at Becherer Hall Auditorium, Rivermont Collegiate, 1821 Sunset Drive, Bettendorf.

At MLK Park, the entertainment includes family-friendly fare — a drum circle and a strong youth educational component (Youth Showcase) around reading, drumming, dance, art, and performance. 

The Quad Cities Jazz Festival/Polyrhythms, is a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to community and cultural arts advocacy, according to the event release, which notes every community is greatly enhanced by the opportunity to share and participate in the arts.

“Our grandparents and parents contributed greatly, both physically and creatively, to the building and the success of the Quad Cities, and the BBJ&H Festival continues to sow the seeds of our unique culture for generations to come,” the release says.

“Our dedication continues to create and grow an exciting and sustainable event that audiences, locally and regionally can relate to,” Polyrhythms said. “We are building and growing a festival reflective of, and befitting the cultural diversity that builds and sustains the Quad-City area.”

Polyrhythms is excited to host its first Black Authors Forum and Book Fair during the Bill Bell Jazz & Heritage Festival on Friday, Aug. 19th, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. That event will be at the Martin Luther King Community Center’s Ida Robinson Banquet Room, 630 – Martin Luther King Drive (9th Street), Rock Island. There will be an author’s “meet and greet” from 5 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 20 features a health forum and discussion in the Martin Luther King Center, from 1 p.m. to – 2:30 p.m. – focusing on high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease.

Who was Bill Bell?

An acclaimed jazz pianist and educator, Bill Bell (known as “The Jazz Professor”) was born in East Moline and died in 2017 at age 80.

Born July 12, 1936, Bell’s training as a musician began in Watertown, where he played piano for services and classes at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. He took piano lessons at home and learned to read music and score musical arrangements from his cousin, longtime United Township High School music teacher and band director Mallie Williams.

Bill Bell (1936-2017), known as “The Jazz Professor,” was an East Moline native who became a renowned jazz pianist and educator in the San Francisco Bay area.

After graduating from UTHS, Bell earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Augustana College in 1958 before obtaining a master’s degree in music education from the University of Iowa.

He taught in Iowa for a few years and then headed to the west coast in the 1960s. In 1966, he appeared on a recording called “The Nifty Cat Strikes West” as a member of the Roy Eldridge Sextet along with Eldridge, a legendary trumpeter, and Louie Bellson, who grew up in Moline and was one of the all-time great jazz drummers.

Bell went on to make other recordings and composed a work for the San Francisco Symphony. He also began a long career as an esteemed educator that included being chairman of the College of Alameda Music Department, jazz improvisation teacher at the University of California, Berkeley, and director of the Stanford University Jazz Band.

Bill Bell

During a lengthy career, Bell served as music director for jazz singer Carmen McRae, played piano for the Supremes and led the group the Jazz Connection. He appeared on recordings by Joe HendersonJohn Handy and Cannonball Adderley; and mentored musicians such as pianist Benny Green, trumpeter Jon Faddis and drummer Will Kennedy.

Bell worked as a lecturer at UC Santa Cruz, University of San Francisco and Berkeley Jazz School. He served as the director of the Stanford University Jazz Band and was adjunct professor of jazz at UC Berkeley. For 32 years, he was chairman of the music department at the College of Alameda.

For more information on the Aug. 19-21 festival, click HERE.