‘Downtown Jazz’ happening on July 24 | News, Sports, Jobs
STEUBENVILLE — For Toni Dondzila, the pace continues, she says, when it comes to involvement with the Ohio Valley Music Guild.
Her father, the late Geno Morelli, was one of the founding members of the organization established in 2004, and while that family connection and feeling keeps her motivated, the guild’s ongoing efforts to bring quality musical experiences near home for local residents to discover and enjoy.
Proof of this is July 24 when the guild offers the second of its three 2022 events — “Downtown Jazz” featuring singer/songwriter Ava Preston and her Cleveland-area band. It will be held at Froehlich’s Classic Corner at 501 Washington St., Steubenville, with doors opening at 1:30 p.m. and dinner and entertainment beginning at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $55 per person with a sit-down summer meal featuring chicken and salmon with Brussels sprouts, spring salad and dessert. A cash bar will be available. Those planning to attend should RSVP by Thursday by contacting Dondzila at (740) 317-3273 or ordering tickets online at https://ovmusicguild.square.site.
Preston is described as a singer and songwriter who enjoys writing and performing jazz, blues, pop/rock and indie songs as a solo artist and as a guest star with various combos and bands in the Cleveland and Akron area.
The Cleveland-area 17-year-old’s website notes that “when performing her wide array of jazz and blues standards, audience members often describe her as ‘old soul.’ She has won the national Downbeat Student Music Award nine times – five times for Vocal Jazz Soloist 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019 2018 and four times for Blues/Pop/Rock Soloist in 2022, 2021, 2020 and 2018.
“An active singer in Northeast Ohio, she began her career singing at a jazz club at the age of 10. A few years later she was featured at a number of local venues, including Bop Stop, BluJazz+, Nighttown, Beachland Ballroom, Brothers Lounge, Standard, Tri-C JazzFest and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame She has performed with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, Dominick Farinacci, Swingbone, Djangophonic, the Joey Skoch Trio and is the lead singer of the Swing Time Big Band, a 17 piece big band.
Her website goes on to note that, nationally, Preston has performed at “Jazz at Lincoln Center – Dizzy’s Club (NYC), Small’s (NYC), Birdland Jazz Club (NYC), Bluebird Cafe (Nashville), Andy’s Jazz Cafe (Chicago) and the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival (Easton, Md.) Ava has had the privilege of performing with jazz greats such as Christian McBride, Monty Alexander, John Clayton and Sullivan Fortner. the honor of singing for Wynton Marsalis, who said she had “a gift…a lot of talent and personality. In 2019, legendary bandleader and songwriter Paul Shaffer watched Ava perform his original song “Toy Solder and said, “It was a great song. You have a great future ahead of you.”
“As a budding songwriter”, his site continues, “Ava has recorded a number of original songs that span jazz, indie and pop/rock. Steve Bogard, songwriter of 10 #1 country songs, recognized Ava’s songwriting ability at age 11 at her songwriting camp and encouraged her to visit Nashville. Ava released her ballad ‘Toy Solder’ in 2020 and is releasing ‘Move Along’ and ‘Some Overdose’ in 2022. Passionate about all musical genres and styles, she also likes to sing in French, Spanish and Portuguese.
According to Dondzila, guild secretary, and Matthew Gallabrese, guild treasurer, a program featuring jazz is not new to the guild with such an offering typically a July staple. The two co-chair the event where they award Kathy Antinone, a former guild board member, the talent recommendation.
When envisioning the venues for the show, Dondzila liked the idea of “Downtown Jazz” and supporting a downtown location that is not only where the guild held planning meetings, but also provides comfort and convenience.
“It’s kind of like ‘Love Where You Live’, and it just seemed to work,” she says.
Gallabrese noted that two of the past three guild events have taken place at Chateau Pier in Smithfield, owned by Todd Piergallini. “Todd does such a great job, and people loved him,” he said of the event.
“We considered many options, and this one (Froehlich) just seemed the most logical and perfect for our organization,” Dondzila intervened.
“It’s good to be back in town” Gallabrese added.
Preston will play mostly jazz but also contemporary jazz, according to Gallabrese, in what promises to be a relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
However, having fun is only one facet of the guild, which also exists to generate money to award annual scholarships of $1,000 to university students who have a local connection and who have declared themselves to be in a major field of study related to music. The scholarships are offered to music students who have completed their first year in college.
Supporting the restoration of the Grand Theater with an annual donation of $1,000 – a tradition of more than 10 years – was another guild goal.
Planning for the next event is already on the co-chairs’ minds, with November being the month when the guild holds its members meeting and music program.
“We have it for November 28 and we’re trying to do a Pittsburgh ballet,” said Dondzila. “The venue will be the new auditorium at Indian Creek High School where we hope to bring back the Nutcracker ballet that the Guild’s late Anita Jackson brought years ago,” she said, referring to what was a well-received event at St. Florian Hall.
“It’s not technically finalized, but that’s the goal” Gallabrese added a performance that the two said tied to the Nutcracker Village theme of Steubenville during the holidays.
Sponsors who help achieve this performance are welcome.
The same goes for new guild members, the two said.
New members are welcome to join the guild, with the annual fee being $20, although other levels of donor membership are available, starting at $50 and up. Checks can be made payable to The Ohio Valley Music Guild and mailed to the guild at PO Box 2158, Wintersville OH 43953.
“We are crawling our way back from COVID,” Dondzila spoke of a struggle that is not unknown to other organizations.
According to the April event schedule, the guild has been providing quality events and entertainment, arts and culture preservation, and music scholarships to many people in the Ohio Valley for over 17 years old.
The guild’s Facebook page acknowledges the guild’s history, noting, “In 2003, a group of musically-minded people in Steubenville brought in a New York City impresario with local connections to produce and stage “Madame Butterfly”, an opera by Puccini. The Steubenville High School audience loved it. The following year (2004) they staged an equally wonderful opera, ‘LaBoheme’ also by Puccini with an extraordinary principal tenor from the Colon opera in Brazil.
“Based on early efforts, a committee was then formed in November 2004, a president was elected and commitments were made to develop an opera guild. Their goals were to bring opera and good music to the Upper Valley region of Ohio by raising funds to support the arts through membership drives, grant applications, donation solicitations and fundraising events.
“From a handful of music enthusiasts when we first met in November 2004, we have since grown to over 100 members with more members being added on a regular basis.”
The non-profit organization later changed its name to clarify that its programs were not exclusive to opera offerings.
The guild has brought over 50 shows to the Ohio Valley over the years, some of them being Act II of the “Nutcracker Ballet” by performers from the Pittsburgh Ballet; a swing band show with dance teachers; opera, Broadway and jazz singers and ensembles; and an orchestra of steel drums.
Guild sponsors include Hauser Furniture, RE Saxon of Weirton and First Choice America with in-kind donations from the Microsoft and Google for Nonprofits program.
Besides Dondzila and Matthew Gallabrese, the officers of the guild are Ross Gallabrese, acting president, and Judi Gaynor, past president. Board members are Dottie Bossert, Carlotta Jordan, Liz Morelli, Joyce Ryan-Orlando and Roxanne Matysiak.
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