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Summertime Jazz Continues

A Chat with CNY Jazz Central’s Larry Luttinger

It’s a beautiful thing when jazz becomes the prevailing wind – breezing its way through our fair city. And as civic and community culture has resumed to a robust posture – although changed as per recent years – music, especially, has returned stronger than ever.  

I’m so happy that music is everywhere.



I’ve said it before that a city’s culture is what defines the city. I take a lot of faith in a city that has such a prevalent, enthusiastic and “yes, formidable” Jazz scene.

One of our city’s pillars of Jazz is Larry Luttinger. Larry has been an integral part of the music scene here in Syracuse as both a cracker-jack-tip-top-A-list musician; and as an incredible perpetuator of Jazz and Jazz events serving as the Head Honcho of CNY Jazz Central. 

Through Larry’s efforts to make Syracuse a “Jazz City” he developed a number of events, namely in the form of weekly event programs. And he’s kind enough to take a few minutes to share this with us, today.

Chuck Schiele: Here we go again, Larry! The jazz continues to roll through the year – this time, thanks to CNY Jazz Central. I imagine you’re getting excited. For how many years have you been throwing jazz events, here in Syracuse, Larry?

Larry Luttinger: I’ve been around this scene too long, Chuck! If you don’t count my years presenting national artists during my time teaching at S.U. as Director of Jazz Ensembels, that would date back to 1996, when the CNY Jazz Orchestra made its debut in the Civic Center. The rest is history. Our festival has been around since 2001, Jazz in the City since then as well. We’ve got the scars to prove it.

CS: What can we look forward to with this year’s festival?

Jeff Kashiwa of the Rippingtons

LL: All the quality you’ve come to expect from CNY Jazz. The art form in all its genres, plus legacy performances by distinguished alumni. Our nightly headliners this year are Jumaane Smith, a Michael Buble protegee, Jeff Kashiwa of the Rippingtons, and many more artists you can find at nejazzwinefest.org

CS: You have a number of involvements and events, yes?

LL: Oh my goodness yes, over 100 events each year in public and in schools. We present more free outdoor events in the city than any other non-profit. Seven jazz in the city events, two days of continuous music at our jazz and wine festival in Clinton Square, and four concerts by our youth orchestra.

CS: I don’t know about you, but to me, it seems Jazz is gaining a stronger foothold in our city’s cultural consciousness.

LL: Well, if you call 1.5% of the record market a foothold, go ahead.

CS: What are some of the things you are doing to keep it that way?

LL: We just don’t give up. We appear in front of almost 50,000 people each year, in all kinds of settings. If you don’t experience it, you can’t appreciate it.

Sounds of A and R. Credit: Julianne Karr

CS: Please share with us a few of the highlights of past Jazz events.

LL: My favorite is putting 8,000 people in Clinton Square to see Chuck Mangione in 2007. Made concert of the year in The Post-Standard. And making our recordings, of course, including a new one coming out in the fall, our CNYJO with David Liebman, NEA Jazzmaster.

CS: How does Jazz help the world? To you…what does it offer?

LL: Dizzy Gillespie said “No America, no Jazz.” It’s our finest export. During the height of the Cold War, what did we send to the Soviets? Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington! Jazz says it all about our inclusive culture.

CS: You yourself are a musician – Jazz musician. Please tell us a bit about it.

LL: Well, I straddle both worlds. I’ve been trained as a classical percussionist, and have been playing in our orchestra here since 1986. I chaired the Music Industry degree program at S.U. in the 80s and 90s. And a lot of other stuff in between. Originally I cut my teeth with Todd Hobin, on the road backing up oldie R & B acts like Gary U.S. Bonds, Del Shannon, The Coaters, Drifters, and many more, when we were in the Stomping Suede Greasers. I left the Eastman School when I got that road offer. Never looked back.

CS: Say something to the kids looking to pick up an instrument.

LL: Put the time into it and the rewards will be great. If you can develop the passion that draws you to the instrument when you walk by it, you have the flame inside you. The rest is hard work. Get your 10,000 hours in and you’re a success. And don’t waste your time practicing things you know already. Challenge yourself.

CS: What can we look forward to in the near future of music from your corner?

LL: Well, until I have to get off the bus, more new series. We’re unveiling a new dinner series at the Sherwood Inn in Skaneateles soon, and will restart our Opening Night Cabarets at Syracuse Stage in the fall.

CS: How can we stay in touch and informed of the good things you bring to our city?

LL: Simple, cnyjazz.org, nejazzwinefest.org, and cnyjazzinthecity.org. Reading the papers doesn’t hurt either! Click on our e-news list through the contact button at any of our web sites.

CS: Thanks, Larry. Thank you for what you do. Have a great summer.

LL: Happy trails! See you at the next gig, Chuck. Thanks.

Jumaane Smith

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is a lifelong, award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member Quatrocollective.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.