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West Texas had virtually no jazz heritage until it began hosting a jazz party in 1967. The party was begun by an Odessa physician who loved jazz and wanted to bring it to Texas. His party celebrated 50 years in 2016. This is the story of the West Texas Jazz Parties, held in a very unlikely location in Texas - Odessa and Midland.

This documentary celebrates a Jazz Party that has been held in the Permian Basin of West Texas since 1967. The West Texas Jazz Party Collaboration (begun as the Odessa Jazz Party) marked its 50th anniversary in 2016. This documentary features interviews with key participants and musicians and performance footage from four years (2013-2016). All of the music within the soundtrack is from live performances across 50 years of audio recordings captured at the events in Odessa and Midland. The documentary also highlights the personal stories, archival images and memorabilia of the parties dating to 1967. Two of the musicians at the 50th party - Bucky Pizzarelli and Johnny Varro - have attended events in Odessa and Midland since the 1960s. The President of the Board of the West Texas Jazz Society, Margaret Gillham, has had a hand in every party for more that 25 years.

  • David Leonnig
  • David Leonnig
  • David Leonnig
  • Johnny Varro, Bucky Pizzarelli, Randy Sandke, Ken Peplowski,
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 39 minutes 4 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    October 26, 2016
  • Production Budget:
    60,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - David Leonnig

I am a life-long communicator who began my professional life as a radio broadcaster. More recently, I have been at various times a PR professional, online marketer, historian, storyteller, narrator, videographer and photographer.

Since 2009, I have been involved in videography projects related to public radio, museum management, and my degree work. In 2013, I was awarded a Master of Fine Arts in Arts & Technology, from the University of Texas at Dallas. My graduate project was a multimedia travelogue through Dave Imus’ Essential Geography of the United States wall map, using 51 minute-­long vignettes on United States geography from his award-­winning map. The project dovetailed into a one-minute-­long video featuring music by jazz vocalist Tierney Sutton singing “America, the Beautiful”.

Since 2013, I’ve assembled materials for a documentary on a Jazz Party event in West Texas that I completed in Fall 2016 for submission to film festivals. In relation to this project, I have maintained the web site and Facebook presence for the West Texas Jazz Society, a non-­profit in Midland and Odessa, Texas. You may view these sites at the following locations: (http://wtjs.org and http://facebook.com/westtexas.jazzsociety).

My related experience includes 20 years of professional staff management, and hands-­on production of three e-­commerce web sites and a number of 500-page catalogs of electronics components and products. For two years I served as chief content provider as Managing Editor of RadioShack’s website. More recently, I have narrated a full-length professional help book (on careers) and have edited and assembled three e-books from the same materials.

Since 2009, I have produced a weekly one-hour jazz history and jazz-and-geography series for the stations of West Texas Public Radio, KXWT and KRTS. The program, which originally allowed me access to the music and historical materials of the West Texas Jazz Parties, is called West Texas Jazz.

This is my first documentary.

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Director Statement

I am a lifelong jazz fan, and was producing a radio program in West Texas when I learned the Permian Basin had hosted a jazz party for 47 years. In a chance meeting with the President of the West Texas Jazz Society, Margaret Gillham, I learned that the party was 47 years old (now 50) and that each of the parties had been recorded. I also discovered the tapes were at the Institute of Jazz Studies in New Jersey, and that they had not been transferred to any sort of archival medium. Part of the documentary is the story of bringing the tapes back, although the music and its unlikely host cities is reason enough to watch the documentary. I am astounded at how good the music is and how well most of it was recorded. Each song in the documentary was either recorded at a recent jazz party (with video) from the past four years (2013-2016), or is from recordings made in about a ten-year span. Most of the best archival recordings come from parties in 1994 - 2003, when some of the parties' major stars - Milt Hinton, Bob Haggart, Jack Lesberg, and Ralph Sutton - made their final appearances. The earliest recordings in the documentary (from 1977), feature two tracks with tenor saxophone solos by the legendary Flip Phillips, The contemporary musicians who appear in the documentary include Johnny Varro, Rossano Sportiello, Randy Sandke, Warren Vache', Dan Barrett, John Allred, Harry Allen, Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott and Bucky Pizzarelli, with a special appearance by the Four Freshmen.