The 33rd Annual Jazz Celebration Weekend occurred this past weekend, filling the Conservatory with heaps of high school students, visiting nationally known clinicians and world-class jazz artists, making Appleton the jazz metropolis of the Midwest for a few days.
The festivities began with a concert on Friday, Nov. 8 by Grammy Award-nominated vocalist Kate McGarry and quartet members Gary Versace on organ, Keith Ganz on guitar and Obed Calvaire on drums. McGarry’s set contained a variety of genres and time periods, including original tunes from her album “Girl Talk,” an arrangement of James Taylor’s tune “Line ‘Em Up,” “We Kiss In The Shadow” from the Broadway show “The King and I” and an original composition about her Irish family tree, straddling the more traditional jazz vocal genre and her own contemporary sound.
The music never stopped on Saturday, filling every nook and cranny of the Conservatory with music. Middle and high school jazz ensembles from Minnesota and Wisconsin kicked off the day with performances and workshops with clinicians from the Eastman School, St. Olaf College, Phoenix College and Washington & Jefferson University.
In addition to the younger students’ performances, Lawrence’s four jazz combos and the Jazz Saxophone Ensemble played concerts throughout the day in Stansbury Theater, playing tunes by Bud Powell, Wayne Shorter, Oliver Nelson and Miles Davis, to name a few.
Later that afternoon, all the students and teachers converged in the Chapel for a concert by the Lawrence University Jazz Band and Jazz Ensemble, led by Lecturer in Music Patty Darling and Kimberly-Clark Professor of Music Fred Sturm, respectively. The Jazz Band performed a traditional swing chart, “Lennie’s Pennies,” a Matt Harris tune entitled “Inside Out” and the Pat Metheny tune “The Gathering Sky.”
Sturm’s Jazz Ensemble performed three pieces, each featuring a Lawrence jazz faculty member. The first tune, “Pueblo de Taos,” was a Sturm arrangement of a traditional Native American melody from New Mexico and welcomed Assistant Professor of Music and flutist Erin Lesser, who dazzled audiences with her performance on the standard C flute and less-heard bass flute.
The next tune, entitled “Hang Gliding,” was written by Maria Schneider and featured Instructor of Jazz & Improvisational Music and Jazz Performance Coordinator and saxophonist José Encarnación, who first performed the song with Schneider’s orchestra last winter. LUJE then closed with “Splatch,” another Sturm arrangement of a Marcus Miller composition with guest soloist Lecturer of Music and guitarist Steve Peplin tearing it up with funk lines and sound effects to close the show.
Capping off the weekend of non-stop jazz was a concert by the legendary fusion ensemble The Yellowjackets, made up of keyboardist Russell Ferrante, saxophonist Bob Mintzer, drummer Will Kennedy and electric bassist Felix Pastorius. Now in its 32nd season, this ensemble blew away audiences with their tight sound and fluid interactions between each virtuosic player. The group played tunes mostly from their newest album “A Rise in the Road” and surprised audiences when Mintzer pulled out the EWI (electronic wind instrument) and brought us back to their fusion roots.
The weekend was truly one of jazz celebration, giving people of all ages and levels of musical experience the chance to listen, learn, perform and be a part of this exciting genre that has been and continues to be the roots of so many types of our musical language.