Gary Smulyan fell in love with jazz as a teenager, when he stumbled on a sweet Fats Waller piano solo playing on the radio in his Wantagh home.
“I’d never heard jazz before. It just drew me in right away,” said Smulyan, now 60, of Hastings-on-Hudson in Westchester. “It rocked my world and I never looked back.”
On Saturday, the baritone saxophonist and his group, the Gary Smulyan Trio, played the Coltrane Day Music Festival in Huntington’s Heckscher Park.
The second annual festival was named for the late saxophonist and composer John Coltrane, who had lived in Dix Hills with his wife, jazz pianist Alice Coltrane.
Saturday’s event featured jam sessions and activities such as jazz, blues and funk workshops — including a workshop for girls only in the spirit of Alice Coltrane.
“The event is about building community through music,” said Ron Stein, president of Friends of the Coltrane Home, which sponsored the event.
As many as 4,000 people were expected to attend the festival, Stein said, which also coincided with the group’s start of a $2.5 million campaign to turn the Coltranes’ former Dix Hills home into a hands-on cultural center to inspire young people.
John Coltrane wrote one of his greatest compositions, “A Love Supreme,” in the studio of the home, which he bought with Alice in 1964. Coltrane died three years later. His widow sold the ranch-style home in 1973 and moved to Los Angeles, where she died in 2007.
“A Love Supreme” has always been festivalgoer Alan Brancik’s favorite.
“I think it’s a masterpiece album,” said Brancik, 60, of Port Jefferson.
He bopped his head to another Coltrane piece, “Blue Train.” Nearby, a woman danced on stilts and shook a tambourine to the song. Saxophonist Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers, and Coltrane’s daughter, Michelle, a jazz vocalist who lives in Los Angeles, also were among the performers.
“I love everything about jazz. I got started in it because I was born and raised in New Orleans,” said Neville, 77, who performed with the band Circus Mind.
About 20 feet from the stage, Bill Gerardi, 59, of East Northport, enjoyed the performance by the Gary Smulyan Trio, accompanied by Hofstra University music professor and pianist Dave Lalama.
Like Smulyan, Gerardi became enamored with jazz as a child — for him, it was a Louis Armstrong tune that captured his imagination.
“To me, jazz music is one of the best things about America,” he said.