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Released June 14, 2004


HATTIESBURG -- The Mississippi Holiday Spectacular, a pops-style concert and fireworks show created to celebrate America's independence holiday, has found a permanent home, come rain or shine, according to Dr. Jay Dean, event coordinator and music director for The University of Southern Mississippi Symphony Orchestra.

"We have tried different venues for our four previous productions and have been at the mercy of the late evening rain showers," Dean said. "For this year's production on July 2, we have chosen Pride Field on campus that is located next to the Payne Center. We will cover the orchestra and performers with a tented stage so we can play regardless of the weather."

Dean is working with the personnel at the Payne Center to make the event, at its new home, audience friendly and is confident that this location will be permanent. In addition, a community-based committee has been formed to ensure the event's longevity and to secure sponsors each year.

"As a committee of university personnel and representatives of local businesses, we want this event to be one that the community can count on to begin their Fourth of July weekend celebrations," Dean said. "Our nation's birthday is a great time for getting together with family and friends. We are excited about contributing to the essence of the season for south Mississippi."

Local businesses that have already joined the university's Symphony in planning and sponsorship include the Hattiesburg American, Comcast Cable, BancorpSouth, Turtle Creek Mall, B95 Radio, Trustmark National Bank, and Inn on the Hill.

Andrea Saffle, marketing director at the Turtle Creek Mall, sees this event as an important community partnership. "It brings us together as a community, to remind us of our heritage as a country and to instill in our children a patriotic spirit," she explained. "By getting local community organizations and businesses involved, it creates community ownership."

"All-American Jazz" is the theme of the July 2 event. Jazz guitarist and vocalist Chris Cortez and his quartet will join the Symphony Orchestra as well as other guest performers for the 8 p.m. concert and fireworks.

"Jazz is the quintessential American art form," Dean said. "It is music that everyone loves-it is music that is fun to listen to, and it reaches down into the American soul."

Cortez, an Orlando, Fla., native who now resides in New Orleans, has become quite a "regular" on the jazz scene in the Big Easy. He first arrived in the area as music director for some of the production shows on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1995. He has held long running jobs at the Grand Casino, Treasure Bay Casino Resort, the President Casino, Casino Magic, and the Copa Casino.

His own groups, the Music Machine and the Chris Cortez Big Band, were not only headliners on various marquees, but also got the opportunity to back acts such as Bo Diddley, The Coasters, The Haggar Brothers and Lenny Welch.

Known for his musical versatility, Cortez has a proven track record. In 1996, he was winner of the Jazziz Magazine Guitars on Fire contest. His fourth recording, "Hold It Right There," was released in August 2003 to rave reviews.

"Chris Cortez is the hottest jazz guitarist in the South," Dean said. "He will bring a lot of his own original music to the table, including a couple of tunes from his latest CD, along with some jazz standards that everyone knows."

Also performing with the orchestra are jazz vocalists Sethe Tucker and Dean Bellais. Jazz instrumentalists Bill Murphy and Larry Panella round out the slate of guest artists for this "spectacular" evening of all-American jazz.

"Sethe Tucker is an up-and-coming jazz singer from Atlanta and will sing a tribute to Billie Holiday," Dean said. "Dean Bellais is a terrific vocalist who sings all types of music-opera, popular music, and jazz. Bill Murphy is the finest jazz writer and arranger in Mississippi, and Larry Panella, not only a great jazz saxophonist, is our director of jazz studies at Southern Miss."

As tradition has it, the orchestra will close the evening with a rousing rendition of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," complete with blasting cannons, courtesy of Camp Shelby, and a professional fireworks display at 9 p.m.

Admission to the event is free. For more information, call the Southern Miss Symphony office at (601) 266-4001.


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June 21, 2004 12:55 PM