A tribute to the artist who had us at ‘Hello'

Gainesville artist and musician Lennie Kesl, shown at center in a 2007 photo with artists Kimberly Wilcox, left, and Kevin Nordhausen, right, will be saluted in a free concert tonight titled “Hello World” at the Santa Fe College Fine Arts Hall. (Courtesy photo)

Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 3:10 p.m.

As an inimitable artist in Gainesville for many years, Lennie Kesl was known for saying the phrase “Hello world.” Tonight, that embrace of life through Kesl's imaginative eyes becomes the title of a musical salute to the Gainesville cultural fixture, who died in November at age 86.


‘Hello World' tribute to Lennie Kesl

What: Musical performance and unveiling of the 2013 Santa Fe College Spring Arts Festival poster with artwork by Kesl
When: Poster unveiling begins at 6:30 p.m. today, concert starts at 7 p.m., doors open at 6 p.m. for a viewing of Kesl's artworks
Where: Fine Arts Hall, Santa Fe College, 3000 NW 83rd St.
Cost: Free
Info: Springartsfestival.com

As part of the festivities around the 44th Annual Santa Fe College Spring Arts Festival, which runs Saturday and Sunday in downtown, tonight's event at Santa Fe's Fine Arts Hall will pack a lot of art and music in a single evening.

Doors open at 6 p.m. for attendees to see an exhibition of Kesl's artworks in the lobby. At 6:30 p.m., the poster for the 2013 Spring Arts Festival — featuring an artwork by Kesl — will be unveiled in the lobby. (Copies of the new poster along with reprints of posters that Kesl designed for the 1984 and 1987 Spring Arts Festivals can be purchased tonight and during the festival as well as online at Springartsfestival.com; proceeds will benefit a new scholarship at Santa Fe).

The concert, which follows at 7 p.m., features a veritable who's-who of Gainesville's jazz performers, all of whom knew and performed with Kesl in a variety of formats over the years.

While Kesl's renowned art career of more than 20 years saw him influence artists through teaching at both Santa Fe and the University of Florida, Kesl also made his mark on Gainesville's musical world — as both a jazz drummer and, perhaps most memorably in later years, as an inimitable jazz vocalist.

It is the latter that will be saluted in tonight's tribute concert, says Cathy DeWitt, who performed on-and-off in jazz settings with Kesl for 30 years, sang in an early incarnation of the group Moondancer that included Kesl on drums and later sang duets with Kesl in other performances.

“The main way that we're paying tribute to Lennie is by singing songs that he loved to sing,” says DeWitt, who organized tonight's concert, “because really the majority of his jazz career as we experienced it here in Gainesville was through his singing.”

Along with DeWitt, tonight's performers include several who performed in Moondancer over the years including pianist Frank Sullivan, and drummers Billy Bowker, Bill Hutchinson and Rob Rothschild.

Others set to perform tonight include pianists Vic Donnell and Howard Wapner; vocalists Omi Ajamu, Dawn Royston and Dan Stepp; bassist David Ottenberg; cornetist Nick DeDarlis; trumpeter/flugelhorn player Gary Langford and guitarist Marty Liquori.

Liquori's Jazztet, which has performed on Thursday nights at Leonardo's 706 for 14 years (and includes Bowker and Donnell), hosted many guest appearances by Kesl, who often charged up audiences with his style and approach, Liquori says.

“He was a true jazz singer, and what people saw in him was somebody who was just always going for the fences,” he says.

“The thing people would say is it was interesting to see somebody who goes at something 100 percent.”

Adds DeWitt about Kesl: “He just had a really distinctive style, and his knowledge of jazz really informed his singing. He had an amazing fountain of knowledge about jazz.”

Contact Entertainment Editor Bill Dean at 374-5039 or at bill.dean@gvillesun.com, and follow on Twitter @SceneBill


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