11th Street Jazz ready to blow!

Downtown Modesto turns into a hotbed of jazz this weekend for a new festival.

The Eleventh Street Jazz fest will feature traditional, New Orleans-style jazz and big-band swing over two days.

"There's about every genre of jazz within the scope of what we're doing," said Ernie Bucio, who organized the event with Hanibal Yadegar, owner of Barkin' Dog Grill.

The event is a fund-raiser for the Modesto Traditional Jazz Society, which holds dance concerts on the third Sunday of the month at the Modesto Moose Lodge on Fifth Street.

Saturday is a pub crawl, with several artists performing at the Barkin' Dog, Tresetti's World Caffe and the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge, all on 11th Street. Acts include the Natural Gas Jazz Band, Creole Jazz Kings, JassCity and Ernie Bucio's Little Big Band.

Sunday, the action moves to the Gallo Center for the Arts. The Devil Mountain Jazz Band performs three sets. The Modesto Traditional Jazz Society, dedicated to New Orleans-style jazz, also will set up shop. There will be dancing and a jazz brunch.

Finally, headliners Plas Johnson, Mic Gillette, Bill Watrous and Bobby Shew cap off the day with a Legends of Jazz concert.

Johnson is a saxophonist best known for playing the famed theme to the "Pink Panther" movies. He was a busy studio musician who recorded with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. He also performed in the bands for "The Tonight Show," "The Merv Griffin Show" and "The Carol Burnett Show."

Gillette is a trumpet and trombone player who recently rejoined his old band Tower of Power. Watrous is a bop-style trombonist, and Shew played trumpet and flugelhorn with such luminaries as Buddy Rich, Woody Herman and Horace Silver.

Bucio said he is excited that all-star high school jazz musicians also will participate in the festival.

"Students will be backstage rubbing shoulders with some legends of music," he said. "It will be an opportunity not a lot of students at that age will get."

Johnson, who performed at the Barkin' Dog two years ago, said he is looking forward to being back in Modesto.

Based in Studio City, the 77-year-old said he enjoys performing as much as he can.

Johnson grew up in New Orleans in a musical family, with a father who played banjo and sax and a mother who played piano and sang. He took up the saxophone at age 12 and performed with his brother Ray, a pianist, when the two were teens.

The young Johnson broke onto the national scene when he got a job touring with popular R&B performer Charles Brown. From there, he got a job as a studio musician in Los Angeles.

He said it was a thrill to work with the big stars. When he performed for Ella Fitzgerald, he asked for her autograph. The star was shy but agreed. Johnson said most of the stars were easy to work with.

"Barbra Streisand had a reputation of being a difficult diva," he said, "but I worked with her twice and she was beautiful."

Bucio said he is proud that top artists like Johnson agreed to play in the festival. If the event is a success, he would like to make it annual.

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