The Friday Letter Archive

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Friday Letter 2017-02-24:
Our Reinvigorated Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival

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Our Reinvigorated Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival
February 24, 2017
Letter from the President
Dear Friends,
This year marks the 50th anniversary of our nationally recognized Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. As we bring the festival back within our School of Music, we’ve made some changes this year: three days of all on-campus workshops and concerts, a competition track for students with a chance to play on the main stage, and new features such as an academic fair for our visiting students. I sat down with Vanessa Sielert, School of Music associate director and associate professor of saxophone and jazz bands, to learn more about the festival from the perspective of a musician, teacher and festival organizer.
You’ve taken a leadership role as we bring this festival back within our School of Music. What changes will students notice? What changes will other festivalgoers notice?
The changes that we’ve made to the festival all center around the student experience. We understand from our experiences in the music education field, as well as from students and director feedback, that a competitive format allows students to strive for excellence and personally meaningful opportunities, such as the chance to perform in the evening concerts among world-class artists. We felt strongly that centralizing the festival back on campus would not only allow the visiting students to experience more of our campus community, but would also better engage our current UI students in the festival. We hope that festivalgoers and our current students will notice an increased energy and excitement at this year’s festival.
Going to three nights instead of four makes sense because we have three nights of competition. We’ve changed the format to make all concerts two-and-a-half hours long, ending every night at 10 p.m. All the concerts are in the Kibbie Dome. Prior to that we had them around campus and at different times; we wanted to make it clear and easy for everybody.
I find this exciting for students and festival attendees. In the past, we have had some student participants who competed to earn a spot on the main stage, and who are now professional artists.
That’s right. As one example, Grace Kelly, a saxophonist, was a student participant and eventually returned to perform in the jazz festival. I also know several performers in the Seattle area who say that being on the main stage at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival was the moment they realized that this is what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives.
What has been the response from our School of Music to handling the festival? What kind of engagement have you seen?
We are all on board! It’s engaged the faculty in a new way. For instance, we’re offering new daytime workshops Friday and Saturday. These workshops will be on a variety of topics, including double-reed instruments, which aren’t traditionally in jazz ensembles. Students who are “doublers,” who play their double-reed instrument in their orchestra or their concert band, but play their saxophone in their jazz band, can have some experience with our world-class faculty on those instruments. There’s a workshop on the jazz rock era. There’s a workshop on breathing. There’s a workshop on giving an audition. There are a variety of workshops that any musician can gain from.
One of the things we’ve done is that each of our artists coming to the evening concerts is available for a clinic. For Friday and Saturday those clinics are at the dome at noon, and no student will be turned away. That’s a huge positive. Overall, we’re offering many more clinics than in the past.
What does the 50th anniversary of the Jazz Festival mean for UI?
It means we have a rich tradition of the jazz festival. This started as a one-day, one-room festival with one guest artist, and it’s grown into a nationally recognized festival that’s three days long, with multiple guest artists, with more than 4,000 students participating. It’s really grown into quite the event one of the largest festivals in the country. This year, it has grown again in student participation from last year, and our ticket sales are up. It’s very exciting.
This year’s festival theme is “Grounded in Tradition. Breaking New Ground.” What does that mean?
Jazz and jazz musicians have always embodied this theme. Jazz music is much about paying tribute to the past while looking forward, pushing boundaries. We wanted the festival to reflect that spirit. We wanted to respect the traditions of the past, respect the core principle of education being primary at the festival, but push it to new levels, experiment, try new things, and break out of the mold.
You are particularly involved in the “Jazz in Schools” part of the festival. Tell us about that program.
Jazz in Schools started while Lionel Hampton was here, and he was a big proponent of getting out to rural schools and giving students an experience with this American art form. We send musicians out to dozens of schools leading up to the festival. For a lot of elementary students this might be their first experience with live music. We’ve sent four different ensembles out to three or four schools per day in Idaho and Washington, to towns like Lewiston, Pullman, Garfield, Palouse, Moscow, and more.
What should we know about this year’s lineup of musicians?
Tonight, we have two Benny Goodman quartets. Joseph Doubleday and Felix Peikli will be doing Lionel Hampton-Benny Goodman tunes very similar to what Lionel Hampton and Goodman were doing back in the day. Stefon Harris and Anat Cohen will then play the same piece directly following, but take it in a different direction. It’s a play on our “Grounded in Tradition. Breaking New Ground” theme, and I think it’s a unique thing people will take away from the festival. We will also have New York Voices, a vocal quartet who will put on a fabulous show.
On Saturday we’ll have the Lionel Hampton Big Band, the core of the group, with our faculty and some professional musicians filling in. Claudio Roditi and Julia Keefe will play as well. And Jason Marsalis of the Marsalis family will play vibraphone with the band. To close out the night we have Esperanza Spalding, a Grammy award winner as “Best New Artist” and a very talented composer, bassist and vocalist.
Current UI students can buy tickets for only $15 dollars. Are there other ways for students to be involved and see performances?
Absolutely. They can volunteer to be on site at any of the performances, or they can volunteer to drive artists around, or do any number of volunteer opportunities. It takes 400 volunteers for the festival to run smoothly, so we definitely need and welcome those volunteers. If they volunteer for four hours they get a voucher for a ticket to an evening performance.
For those who wish to just get a taste of what the festival has to offer without volunteering this year, all daytime activities are free and open to the public. People can come and experience student performances and/or one of our “meet the artist” or educational workshops for free during the day before they purchase their tickets to the evening concert.
There’s a new academic fair this year at the festival. What is the impetus behind that?
We’re having booths from every college just before the young artists contest begins on Saturday. From 3:-4:30 p.m. all the colleges will have a table on the Kibbie Dome floor to the right of the stage. Students can feel free to walk through and learn about many of the colleges. It’s a nice opportunity for students who are here to experience more of our campus and learn more about our school.
Many of these students have a strong interest in music, but most of these students will come to college and pursue another discipline.
That’s correct. Hopefully, they will continue to play music and be a part of the School of Music in some fashion. Whether they are in the marching band and they’re an engineer, whether they’re in the Vandaleers concert choir and they’re studying biology, that’s up to them. We offer the opportunities for all students to participate and enjoy their lifelong engagement with music.
Thank you, Vanessa. And thanks also to School of Music and others making this festival possible: Dean Andrew Kersten (CLASS), Torrey Lawrence (School of Music Director), Aaron Mayhugh (Festival Manager), and Vern Sielert (Festival Artistic Advisor). Thank you to our student, faculty and staff volunteers. And thanks to the many donors and sponsors without whom this festival would not be possible.
Chuck Staben
Go Vandals!

Chuck Staben

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