Jazz Celebration Weekend commences

Sonia Emmons

As the weather outside turns colder, the air becomes filled with the familiar song of howling winds and students’ muffled curses. This weekend, these tunes will be replaced by the sweet sounds of jazz for the 27th-annual Jazz Celebration Weekend.Lawrence’s renowned music festival begins the evening of Friday, Nov. 9 with a performance by jazz singer Patricia Barber, and concludes Saturday evening with a concert featuring Branford Marsalis. Despite these big names, the heart of the festival lies in the educational workshops that take place at the Conservatory all day Saturday.

Jazz weekend is really a celebration of education. According to Professor of Music Fred Sturm, Director of Jazz Studies and founder of the Jazz Celebration Weekend, “Jazz weekend offers an educational component that is unique. The educational clinicians focus upon aural training and improvisation, teaching each ensemble a jazz tune ‘by ear.’ They emphasize the jazz aural tradition, promote interactive skills, and illustrate the creative process in jazz.”

An important educational feature of the weekend is its noncompetitive nature. As Sturm explained, “There are no ratings, no awards, and no trophies. The festival provides a positive and motivational jump-start to many jazz programs early in the school year.”
One goal of the festival is to attract and inspire high school jazz musicians. This weekend, 800 vocal and instrumental students from five Midwestern states will perform in 50 different ensembles.

For a number of Lawrence jazz musicians, interacting with the high school musicians is a special part of the weekend. Jazz guitarist Evan Montgomery explained that the “high school kids get a chance to see college-level playing and check out the Lawrence jazz program. It’s also a nice chance for our jazz combos to perform for them.”

Along with members of Sinfonia, the music fraternity involved in setting up for the festival, Montgomery seemed excited at the prospect of fresh faces on campus this weekend.

When asked what the best part of jazz weekend is, he immediately responded, “High school girls.”

Drummer Andrew Green added,”…who play jazz.”

“And are 18, of course,” offered trombonist Ken Wiele, smiling.

While Jazz Weekend has been known to inspire high school students contemplating careers in music, the clinicians and educators also place great emphasis on jazz appreciation.

As Sturm said, “While the majority of festival attendees pursue professional careers outside of music, we hope that Jazz Weekend activities will educate them as consumers and supporters of the jazz art form.”

A special team of jazz educators from middle schools, high schools, and universities from around the country have been hired to serve as ensemble clinicians for the jazz weekend.

Sturm explained the clinicians’ enormous impact, saying that “they bring innovative teaching concepts and cutting edge pedagogy to the festival each fall, directly impacting the quality of school jazz education in this region of the country.”

Beyond reaching a large number of students, Jazz Celebration Weekend benefits the greater community by bringing big-name jazz artists to Appleton each November.

In the past, the Lawrence Memorial Chapel has housed legendary jazz players Zoot Sims, Gerry Mulligan, Dizzy Gillespie, and Wynton Marsalis. Early successes after the first Jazz Weekend in 1981 convinced Lawrence artist series planners to develop an annual Jazz Series in the 1990s.

This year, Lawrence student jazz groups will perform at venues outside the walls of the conservatory. Under the direction of Fred Sturm, the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble will open for Branford Marsalis on Saturday evening at the PAC.

This is the first time that the festival has gone beyond the Lawrence campus.

Drummer Reed Flygt was equally excited about a performance venue a bit closer to home. “We are utilizing the great facilities of Lucinda’s,” he said.

Various jazz combos will perform at Lucy’s Saturday afternoon. Another notable group, the Lawrence Jazz Singers, will perform with Patricia Barber on Friday evening.

Jazz Celebration Weekend 2007 brings a famous jazz singer, a legendary saxophonist, and 800 high school jazz musicians to the Lawrence campus. Thinking again about that last group, Montgomery asked, “Can I put my number in the article?”
Who knows, maybe this weekend will be a good one for him. After all, jazz is in the air.