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Fred Sturm Jazz Weekend returns in new, student-oriented format

The Lawrence University Conservatory of Music will be marking its 40th anniversary of hosting the Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend on Nov. 5–6, with an agenda that varies from previous years.  

Although previous years have included high school jazz bands from across the Midwest coming to Lawrence to participate in workshops led by visiting clinicians, the university decided that this year, due to the presence of the COVID-19, it would not be sensible to host 900 high school students in person, Dean of the Conservatory Brian Pertl said. Instead of cancelling this year’s Jazz Celebration Weekend as was done in 2020, this year’s workshop slots will be used as opportunities for the Lawrence campus community to explore music and honor Fred Sturm’s legacy, Pertl said.  

“It just means so much to all of us to bring this tradition back to honor the 40th anniversary of Jazz Weekend,” Director of Conservatory Programming Jillian Johnson said. “It’s a celebration of music, and the spirit of improvisation and creation, and the way that music can build a community and bind it together. I’m just excited to feel the energy of Jazz Weekend again.” 

Workshops led by Lawrence professors, as well as a few students, will take place on Saturday, Nov. 6, and will include a Deep Listening workshop, an Improvisation for All workshop, a Gamelan workshop, a Samba drumming workshop and a few others. The workshops are geared toward any member of the on-campus community, at any level of music-making, Director of Conservatory Operations Rosie Cannizzo said. 

“We just really wanted to plan a day that celebrates what happens in the jazz department and invites the whole community in to share in that,” Cannizzo said in an email. 

The Improvisation for All workshop, for example, will be an informal educational opportunity for beginners to become more comfortable with improvisation, according to junior Jasper Kashou, a saxophone performance major and student workshop leader. The workshop will include games and improvisation tips provided by Professor Patty Darling and the student leaders, Kashou said. 

“We’re basically just trying to reach out to people outside of the jazz department to help get people more comfortable with improvising and kind of open some new discourse, some new ideas about what like improvisation can be and like it doesn’t have to just all be so performative, it can be more community-based,” Kashou said. 

Consistent with previous years, invited guest artists will be performing in concerts on Friday and Saturday night. The concerts this year will be open to LU students, faculty and staff for an in-person experience, and then streamed for the general public. Tickets for these concerts can be acquired for free with proof of a student ID at the Box Office. 

To honor Fred Sturm for the 40th anniversary, Saturday night’s concert will be performed by Ike Sturm, bassist, composer and son of Fred Sturm, with his group, Heart, and featured guest saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who can be heard on David Bowie’s final studio album, “Blackstar.” 

Fred Sturm, for whom Jazz Weekend was renamed after his passing, was a jazz and trombone professor at Lawrence University for 26 years and established Jazz Celebration Weekend in 1981.  

Pertl, who received a B.Mus. in trombone performance and a B.A. in English from Lawrence University, was a student of Sturm’s. Pertl was also a first-year student the year Jazz Celebration Weekend was first established.  

“For me personally, Fred Sturm is the reason I came to Lawrence, and he’s also the reason I came back to be the dean,” Pertl said. “[…] He’s probably the single most influential person in my life as far as my career path goes.” 

As for the 2022-23 school year, if it is safe enough to have 900 high school students on campus again for Jazz Celebration Weekend, then that will happen again, Pertl said. As for continuing to provide opportunities for campus-wide involvement in musical exploration, the Conservatory plans to make that an event that happens in the spring.  

“And if we move it to spring, and the weather gods are smiling, then we could have outdoor drumming and outdoor gamelan and outdoor movement and outdoor deep listening, and then it could take on a life of its own as a separate idea that started in the Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend slot but then move to a place of its own,” Pertl said.