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Nation’s Oldest College Jazz Festival Set to Jam

Observer Scene | Thursday, February 26, 2009

Celebrating 51 years with Jazz bands from all over the country, the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival of Notre Dame starts today. The festival is the oldest college jazz festival in the nation and though judges will be presiding, the festival is not a competition, but a learning experience for the competing bands and the audience.

As the first collegiate Jazz Festival in the nation, the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival of Notre Dame is an integral reason why you listen to jazz today. The festival moved jazz into mainstream culture as “All-American Music”, shifting away from the depictions of jazz as the background music only heard in dark, sinful smoky bars. The festival encouraged jazz as music to be studied, improved and learned, which before Notre Dame was unheard of in most Collegiate music programs. The educational goal of the festival is the most important aspect still.

The Festival started in 1959 and was hosted by Lyon’s Hall, nicknamed the “hotspot of Jazz on the Notre Dame campus,” and was sponsored by the “Collegiate Jazz Festival Committee.” The festival included door prizes, many more bands than the festival currently does and was held in mid-March.

The festival consists of clinics – free for students to attend – that feature jazz bands and ensembles ranging in size from one performer to thirty in some instances. The featured judges, notable musicians invited by the University, answer questions and critique the performances.

Previous performers and judges at the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival have been Bill Evans, Quincy Jones, Wynton Marsalis and Dee Dee Bridgewater, and if those names don’t mean anything to you, then you have all the more reason to attend the festival.

This year’s performers live up the festival’s reputation with the Notre Dame Jazz Band, the Western Michigan Jazz Combo, two jazz ensembles from Eastern Illinois, Alma College Jazz Percussion and Steel Drum Ensemble, Notre Dame New Orleans Brass Band and North Caroline Central University Vocal Jazz Ensemble.

This year’s judges include Nnenna Freelon, a five time nominated Grammy Award singer who has worked with acts such as Ray Charles, Ellis Marsalis, Al Jarreau, Anita Baker and Aretha Franklin. The other judges featured are Joel Holmes, Wayne Batchelor, Kinah Boto Ayah and Virginia Mayhew, who will all be performing with Freelon at 10 p.m. on Friday.

Even for students who do not know or are not remotely interested in jazz music, the festival includes other events on campus commemorating and celebrating the “jazz lifestyle.” To kick the festival tonight there will be free swing lessons in the LaFortune Ballroom at 8 p.m. and open swing dancing at 9 p.m. featuring the Notre Dame Jazz Band II and Notre Dame New Orleans Brass Band.

The musical aspect of the festival is split into two sessions, Friday from 7-11 p.m. and Saturday from 7-11p.m. A free clinic with the Collegiate Jazz Festival Judges will be Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Ricci Band Building.

Tickets for the Concert Sessions are available at the LaFortune Box office. All events are Free for ND/SMC/HCC students. Non-student prices are $5 for one session and $8 for two sessions. Tickets can also be purchased at the door.

Contact Martha Karam at mkaram2@nd.edu.