On Oct. 9, the rich sound of big band jazz accompanied by the steps of swing dancers filled the Esch Huvris room for another celebration of Jazz at Rik’s Café. Crowds of smiling students filed in to participate, instruments and swing shoes in hand. Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies José Encarnacion described the purpose of the event as “[honoring] LU President Emeritus Rik Warch, [who] was a fan and a huge advocate of jazz music and jazz education. He was a very close friend of the former Director of Jazz Studies, Professor Fred Sturm, [who] started these concerts back in 2013.” And Sturm certainly provided a fitting dedication, because Warch’s love of music and liberal education led him to play a critical role in expanding the Conservatory as we know it today. His leadership transformed the college and Conservatory from entirely separate entities to coexisting entities in celebration of each other.
In the spirit of this integration and collaboration under Warch’s presidency, Rik’s Café is a beautiful synthesis of different student groups. The Lawrence Swing Dancers (LSD) join the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble (LUJE) and Lawrence University Jazz Band (LUJB) to put together this unique event. Encarnacion believes that the connection between different student groups gives Rik’s Café a vibrant element of support and inclusion that everyone loves; each section of the band works together to “figure out how to rotate students in so everyone gets the same amount of playing time.” In addition to musical comradery and teamwork, he notes that the event also has a compelling educational component, providing the opportunity to sight-read classic jazz repertoire as a group, practicing intuition and cohesion.
The effect is a musical environment that is unique, genuine and fun. As students play in a collaborative, casual setting, they are able to interact with each other and the music more deeply. Director of the LUJE Patty Darling notes that Rik’s café provides students with an important “opportunity to play classic big band jazz music in a casual atmosphere.” Because Rik’s Café is so much more casual and improvised than a traditional concert, students in the band are able to call out suggestions to play, including many popular favorites. The convivial nature of the event allows participants to enjoy amity and connection among the musicians and dancers.
Looking towards the future of Rik’s Café, the rest of Appleton may soon be able to look forward to jazz performances in the community. Encarnacion and Darling are planning for their jazz librarians to expand their “Lakefly” big band book with additional charts to facilitate outreach, and being that they have such a large pool of students to learn the dance book, it will be easier to eventually plan gigs in the community. So, if you missed out this time, don’t fret because you’ll have those community outreach dates to look forward to as well as the fourth week of every term. The Winter Term Rik’s Café is planned for Jan. 29, 2020, and then another Apr. 22, 2020d during Spring Term, both in Esch Hurvis Room in the Warch Campus Center. Darling urges “everyone to come out and hear the band, relax and have fun!”