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Collegiate Jazz Festival brings history to weekend

Maria Smith | Wednesday, February 23, 2005

There was a time when jazz signified a lifestyle and rode the cutting edge of popular music.Now the art seems to have aged and lost its popular hype. The jazz greats, along with the New York Philharmonic, have been relegated to the respectable halls of the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts, where the current high rollers of popular music would never be invited.The Collegiate Jazz Festival also has aged since its creation in 1959. But dropping into Washington Hall this weekend will prove to anyone while the music and the people who play it may age, neither will ever really be old.This year’s festival will, as always, feature a variety of talented groups. Ensembles sometimes come from as far as Texas, Alaska and Hawaii to perform in the oldest collegiate jazz festival in the United States. Other groups, such as the ensembles from Western Michigan University and the University of Illinois, may not have traveled far and may not sound exotic but have given fantastic performances for years.Five respected musicians will also come in to judge the festival. Trumpet player Andre Hayward, saxophonist Frank Catalino, pianist Lynne Arriale, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Steve Davis will perform in the traditional Judges’ Jam on Friday night.However, this year the festival also will welcome some of the original performers back with a performance by a quintet of Notre Dame alumni from the early days of the festival. Trumpet player Bruce Cosacchi, pianist Charlie Prawdzik and drummer Jack Carr all performed in the first festival, while bassist Hayes Kavanagh first performed in the third festival and trombone player Al Hermann first performed in the fourth.Only Prawdzik has continued to make a living as a musician. Cosacchi served in the FBI for 25 years, Hermann is a professor of physics at the University of Colorado, Carr worked in advertising for 35 years and Kavanagh heads a law firm in New York City. Nevertheless, all have maintained their ties to music over the years. Cosacchi and Carr have begun to play with numerous bands since their retirement. Kavanagh organizes parties and concerts with jazz all-stars. Hermann, who has performed with Bill Clinton and Ella Fitzgerald, continues to perform at music festivals around the world.For these musicians, and for Larry Dwyer, a Notre Dame music professor specializing in jazz, the festival evokes a lot of memories.Dwyer, who performed in the festival from 1963-66, remembers a time before the Judges’ Jam, which closes the Friday session, was an official part of the festival and when the judges included greats like Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini and Wynton Marsalis.”When I was a student, the jam existed, but it wasn’t organized,” Dwyer said. “People would go someplace, like the basement of Christ the King church. There’d be this ugly old piano, and people would just play. Herbie Hancock played there, and students used to play with the judges. Now we just build it into the program. It’s really a fabulous part of what happens.”Carr remembers pulling Hermann out of his shell to perform in the last festival before their graduation in 1962.”We were playing one school year, and we said, ‘Oh Al, go and get your horn,'” Carr said. “He got his horn and brought it out. We didn’t expect much from this kid who hadn’t played since high school. It knocked us over the way he played. We wondered where he had been.”In its early days, Carr remembers the festival bringing in a lot of New Orleans-style Dixieland jazz. Nowadays groups cover the jazz spectrum, and one never knows what he will hear.”We get some mellow jazz, jazz rock, straight ahead mainstream, some contemporary and avant garde jazz,” Dwyer said. “The contrast and variety are amazing. If you don’t like one group you’re guaranteed to like the next.”The judges combo and the alumni combo might even surprise themselves, since neither group will ever have played as an ensemble. But in jazz, of course, that’s the beauty of the game.”You’ll hear it for the first time when we do.” Carr said. “But one of the tenants of jazz is freedom and improvisation, and whatever happens you play along with it. We’ll pick some tunes, pick the key, and that’s how you start.”