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Marblehead Jazz Festival keeps groovin’ on

The Boston area has a long and proud jazz tradition. From Storyville to The Jazz Workshop to Scullers and Wally’s, there have always been places for top artists and up-and-comers to playÂ…in town.

North of Boston, however, the venues have been fewer and farther between.

While for many years, Lennie’s on the Turnpike and Sandy’s Revival were enough to bring the best and the brightest to the North Shore, when they closed, a giant hole was opened in the area’s musical soul.

Fortunately, in 1995, another local jazz lover stepped up to fill that hole. And people have been digging it ever since.

Known to most as one of the best custom picture framers in the area, Gene Arnould has also made his mark in the music world as the founder of the Marblehead Summer Jazz series (

“I love having the performers in Marblehead,” says the Chicago native who came to Boston to study theology and theater, “and I love to bring this quality music to the area. Most of all, though, I love the reactions of the audiences!”

After receiving his master’s in divinity and theology in 1971, Arnould was ordained as a Congregational minister and went to work at Marblehead’s Old North Church.

“Ah, Marblehead,” Arnould sighs. “The history. The ocean. BostonÂ….I fell in love with the place right away!”

After a few years on the pulpit, Arnould followed his artistic muses along both visual and aural routes.

“Most of the work that had been done in theology and the arts dealt with visual art, so it wasn’t that much of stretch to go from one to the other,” he explains. “And I had always enjoyed working with my hands, so the framing element worked well too!”

For nearly 30 years, visitors to the Arnould Gallery have been greeted not only with myriad examples of visual beauty and Arnould’s expert handicraft, but also with the sweet sounds of jazz.

“Music and art both uplift the soul, albeit in different ways,” Arnould says. “They are definitely two courses in the same meal.”

These days, Arnould continues to support the visual arts by day and the performing arts by night. Every summer, he helps bring both local legends and international stars to the Unitarian Universalist Church on Mugford Street (which is also the musical home of the Me & Thee Coffeehouse).

“The church suits what we are doing,” Arnould says. “And the sound is wonderful!”

With the help of local Jazz masters like WGBH’s Ron Della Chiesa and Eric Jackson and Scullers Jazz Club’s Fred Taylor, Arnould has been able to bring scores of great musicians to the North Shore.

“The artists love to play here,” he says, “and the audiences love that they do!”

In addition to the “First Lady of Marblehead Jazz,” Rebecca Parris (who has performed at Summer Jazz every season to packed houses) Arnould has also attracted the legendary likes of vibraphonist Gary Burton, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, sax master James Moody and pianistic “sage” Mose Allison, as well as such newer stars as singer Peter Cincotti and pianist Danillo Perez. No matter who he brings to town, however, Arnould notes one consistent element.

“I think we have the best audiences in the Boston area,” Arnould says, thanking his many supporters, including his team of devoted volunteers. “We just hope to bring new people year after year.”

This year, Summer Jazz (which continues through August 19) has included sax star Greg Abate, Berklee bass master Esperanza Spalding, keyboard king Cyrus Chestnut, and other greats.

“It’s always had that Mickey Rooney mentality of ‘Let’s put on a show,'” Arnould explains. “There is a challenge to it, but the reward is great because the people genuinely appreciate it.”