2002 marked the 25th time the Cedar Valley has been privileged to hear world-class jazz through the efforts of the Cedar Basin Dixieland Jazz Festival.
The Cedar Basin Jazz Festival exists today due to the vision, determination and hard work of Dick Smith. Dick organized the Saints Dixieland Jazz Band in 1973, and in the early years recruited Judd Truax (trombone), Gene Lehman (vocals & banjo), Paul Rider (trumpet), Bob Justis (drums), Tedda Hach (piano), Dean Risser (clarinet), and his son, David Smith (tuba and piano) as members. The Saints played at the Depot Restaurant on Friday nights, and soon had a larger group of musicians they could call on as needed, including Jerry Robinson (drums), Jerry Jacobson (mouth organ), Dick’s daughter Lore Beth Mick (vocals), and Paul Tenney (clarinet). These individuals loved playing Dixieland Jazz, and many of them attended the annual Bix Beiderbecke Festival in Davenport, Iowa, thriving on the great jazz music and hoping someday to be invited to play there (which they eventually did, in 1983 and 1985).
In 1976 when the Sturgis Falls Celebration began, the Saints joined the fun, playing in Overman Park in both 1976 and 1977. The band loved what they were doing, but Dick envisioned something more. Dick Smith wanted a north-east Iowa Jazz Festival to rival that of Davenport. In 1978, Dick and Gene formed a non-profit corporation with Dick Smith as President and Secretary, Gene Lehman as Vice President and Bob Justis as Treasurer. Dick, Gene, Bob and Dick’s wife Marilyn, pounded the pavement looking for financial support for the fledgling organization. The founding members recruited musicians, bands, and volunteers to put together a first-class Dixieland Jazz Festival to take place the same weekend as the Sturgis Falls Celebration.
The first “Sturgis Falls Dixieland Jazz Festival” was held in Island Park in June 1978. The bands involved were the Saints Dixieland Jazz Band (Cedar Falls), the Fort Dodge Dixieland Kings, and the Fairfield Dixieland Band. As the Festival grew, they began inviting bands from other states and attracting a multi-state audience. The Festival expanded to three days, and included not only performances in Island Park, but also “jam sessions” at the Olde Broom Factory Restaurant, Starlite Village, and other area venues.
In the 1980s, flooding in Island Park forced the Jazz Festival to move to The Green in Sturgis Park. The new location worked so well that “The Green” became the new home of the Jazz Festival. Another change occurred in the early 1990s, when the Festival was renamed the “Cedar Basin Dixieland Jazz Festival” to distinguish it from the Sturgis Falls Celebration, which occurs on the same weekend in June.
Over the past twenty-five years, many hardworking volunteers have served on the Cedar Basin Board and have helped to guide the organization to what it is today. In June 2001, the Board formally recognized Dick Smith for his dedication and vision in bringing the Jazz Festival to life, by naming their performance stage the “Dick Smith Dixie Queen.” In addition, a Gospel Set honors the memory of former band member Tedda Hach.
Since its inception, the Festival has grown to include a Sunday morning Gospel Set; a jazz brunch; 42 hours of musical entertainment; and a variety of memorabilia. Each year the Festival’s Board of Directors is joined by over 200 volunteers, all of whom are dedicated to continuing the legacy of Dick Smith by bringing the finest Dixieland Jazz to Cedar Falls for a music-filled weekend. Their hard work and Dick’s vision have contributed to the fine quality of life enjoyed by residents of the Cedar Valley.