By Ann Reily
---- — NEWBURYPORT — A Newburyport couple are planning to celebrate their milestone anniversary in a really big way.
Betsy and Jonathan Woodman, who will mark 50 years of marriage this fall, have organized a free jazz concert this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at First Religious Society.
“It’s a gift to the community,” Betsy Woodman said. “We have really deep roots here.”
“It’s our opportunity to give back to the people who have given us a lot,” Jonathan Woodman said.
The Woodmans, who are both 71, also want to shine the spotlight on local musicians, including drummer Les Harris Sr. and baritone saxophonist Danny Harrington, whom they describe as “institutions in this community.”
Harris is a retired Berklee College of Music professor who lives in Newburyport and still teaches at West Newbury School of Music. He has performed with a number of jazz greats, including Gene Krupa, Bobby Hackett, Zoot Sims and Dinah Washington.
Harrington is a Newburyport resident who has been teaching at Berklee for 35 years. He is the former president of the Firehouse Center for the Arts, which he helped develop 22 years ago.
“We have the best of the best playing Saturday night,” Betsy said. “It’s not just a concert. It’s a concert that’s going to be memory-making.”
The concert isn’t the Woodmans’ only gift to the community. They have made a sizable donation to the Newburyport Education Foundation in honor of Harris Sr., who will be presented with a plaque on Saturday night. The money will be earmarked for enhancements to the music program at Newburyport High School.
During Saturday’s concert, Harris will be joined by both his son, Les Harris Jr., who is also a drummer and Berklee graduate, and Les Jr.’s daughter, Aubrey Harris, a 16-year-old bass player who performed with Keith Urban at last year’s American Country Awards and will attend Berklee on a full scholarship next fall.
“It’s rare to have all three Harrises play,” said Betsy, who writes children’s songs and has been studying with Harris Sr. for the past three years.
The concert will also feature Aubrey’s bass teacher, Mark Carlsen, along with pianists Jack Senier and Chris Plante and vocalists Allyn Warner Gamble and Stephen Faria.
Plante, who was the keyboardist for popular Amesbury band The Brew, has been studying with Harris Sr. since the eighth grade, but this will be the first time the two have performed together, Betsy said.
This isn’t the first time that the Woodmans have invited the entire city to celebrate with them at the Unitarian church.
When the couple were celebrating their 40th birthdays in 1981, they organized a concert with the Portland String Quartet from Maine. More than 750 people attended.
“People still remember that concert,” Betsy said.