For more than a century, American orchestras have considered it an honor to be asked to perform in Europe, the birthplace of so much great music.
So for the fourth year in a row, banker Phil Franklin and North County flower grower Paul Ecke Jr. are returning the favor by inviting three European groups to the United States to perform music indigenous to the United States: Dixieland jazz.
The occasion is the fourth annual YMCA International Dixieland Jazzafair, scheduled for Sunday at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and once again benefiting the North County YMCA.
Among the six participating Dixieland bands will be the Allotria Jazz Band of Munich; Dr. Jazz Companie of Lubeck, also in Germany, and Benko Dixieland of Budapest, Hungary.
They will join the Corner House Jazz Band from Perth, Australia, and two Southern California bands, the Chicago Six of Del Mar and Miss-Behavin' of Irvine, for eight continuous hours of Dixieland jazz, to be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at three different fairground locations.
The idea for the Jazzafair, co-founder Franklin said, came from the Old Sacramento Dixieland Jubilee, held each Memorial Day weekend for the last 14 years. With more than 100 American and foreign Dixieland bands, the Sacramento festival is said to be the largest of its kind in the world.
"Paul and I had been going up there since 1980," Franklin said, "and each time what impressed us most was seeing foreign bands playing a native American idiom.
"At the time, Paul was closely involved with the North County YMCA, which at the time was looking around for fund-raising ideas to help finance a new family counseling center.
"So we put together a committee and approached the promoters of the Sacramento festival with the idea of having some of their foreign bands come to the United States several days early to play down here.
"And that's basically how our festival got started--the Sacramento promoters obtain the cultural visas for the various foreign bands, and then we pick three or four of our favorites and invite them down here."
The first Jazzafair in May, 1983, featured only one foreign band--Benko Dixieland--and attracted about 300 people to the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, Franklin said.
In 1984, Franklin said, the event was moved to the Del Mar Fairgrounds, and by the next year the audience had grown to nearly 2,000. Franklin attributes the sharp boost in attendance in part to the intrigue of seeing foreign bands play American music.
"There's definitely a difference between American Dixieland bands and those from abroad," Franklin said. "On the average, the foreign bands are composed of younger musicians than those in American bands.
"And while their sound isn't really that different, there's no question that the foreign bands play more aggressively. They appear to be a lot more dedicated to Dixieland music than their American contemporaries, many of which are in it just as a hobby."
Dr. Rainer Sanders would tend to agree with that assessment. Since 1969, the Munich doctor, now 42, has been the leader of the eight-piece Allotria Jazz Band, making its third appearance in Del Mar this year.
Despite his full-time job as a physician, Sanders considers his role with the band a second career rather than simply a hobby.
"In Munich, Dixieland is a lot bigger than you'd think," Sanders said by phone from Munich. "There are more than 20 active Dixieland jazz bands in the city alone, and most, like us, are busy three or four nights a week."
In addition to the Allotria nightclub, where his group is the house band, there are five other clubs in Munich that feature nothing but Dixieland music, seven nights a week, Sanders said.
The Allotria Jazz Band is just one of many German Dixieland bands that have recording contracts. Since 1971, Sanders said, his group has released 10 albums on such top labels as Ariola and Belafone. Therein lies another touch of irony: The United States may be the birthplace of Dixieland jazz, but American bands that play Dixieland can rarely get record contracts--and when they can, it's only with small, independent labels.
"In Germany, Dixieland came over with the American GIs in the occupation years just after World War II," Sanders said. "And around the same time, Dixieland became very big in Holland and England.
"So, naturally, a lot of Dutch and English bands started playing in Germany. And between the late 1950s and early '60s, Dixieland jazz reached its peak in popularity here.
"And that's why Dixieland is still so big in Germany today--it's a much newer phenomenon, with most of its fans in their middle 30s and 40s."