A swan glides by as saxophone notes dance across the water.
Clusters of people gather under the sprawling live oaks — an impressive natural canopy surrounding the bandstand where an 18-piece jazz band plays.
The tranquil scene greeted the first concert in a series of four held at the Newman Bandstand in Audubon Park. It’s a scene that isn’t hard to imagine in 1950 — which is about how long it has been since a regular concert series was held in the Uptown park.
Built in 1921, the bandstand near Magazine Street is a popular location for weddings and other private events and as a staging area fundraising walks and runs.
But thanks to a partnership among The Audubon Nature Institute, Loyola University, and Bellwether Technology, the Newman Bandstand’s rich history is being revived and its original purpose returned.
The John Mahoney Band played a recent free, public Music Under the Oaks concert for about 200 attendees, who were undeterred by slight showers. Upcoming concerts feature performers from nearby Loyola University.
“I never even knew this bandstand was here,” said Barbara Ewell, a Carrollton resident for 35 years.
While there hasn’t been a free concert in more than 50 years, the bandstand is used frequently for special functions and sits right on the water’s edge, tucked off the main path. It’s the only place in the park that allows amplified music.
It also has been used as a backdrop in the city’s booming film industry — making an appearance in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008) and “A Little Bit of Heaven” (2011).
About 100 weddings take place annually underneath the green rotunda, along with approximately 100 additional events each year, including walkathons, reunions and birthday parties.
The concerts will run from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. every other Friday through October. Food is available for purchase, and concertgoers are encouraged to bring their own.
Nick Volz, an assistant professor of music at Loyola and trumpet player in the John Mahoney Band, said that when the music school was approached about the concerts, it immediately was on board.
Volz said he saw it as a great opportunity for his students to play — and in the unique and relaxed ambience of a park setting.
Ron Forman, president and CEO of the Audubon Nature Institute, recalled the bandstand’s early heyday — when neighbors gathered at the bandstand on Sunday afternoons for music, dance recitals and beauty pageants.
The Friday concerts are an experiment in bringing those public, family-oriented gatherings back, Forman said, and will be held on a trial basis through the fall.
Poco Sloss, president of Bellwether Technology, said he hopes other businesses or individuals in the community gain an interest in sponsoring the concerts.
Sloss said he remembers seeing concerts at the bandstand as a kid — heading to the park on Sunday afternoons with his mom to listen to classical music from a white folding chair. But with Saints games scheduled most Sundays during the fall, the group settled on Fridays for the first installment in the series he said he hopes to see continue.
The park has a unique neighborhood feel, Sloss said, and unmatched beauty. “It’s such a tremendous asset,” he said.
Forman said he’s excited to see an increased opportunity for more people to enjoy the area, while bringing back elements from the park’s 100-year history.
“We’ll try it on a new generation and see what kind of response we get,” Forman said.
Upcoming concerts at Newman Bandstand
Loyola Jazz Alumni Jam, Friday, Sept. 19
Loyola Faculty Chamber Ensembles, Friday, Oct. 3
Loyola Jazz Band, Friday, Oct. 24