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Bands, SUB present 53rd jazz festival

Kristen Durbin | Friday, March 4, 2011

Notre Dame’s 53rd annual Collegiate Jazz Festival will unite professional and student musicians this weekend.

The two-day, student-run festival, sponsored by the Notre Dame Bands and the Student Union Board, routinely attracts world-class judges and ensembles, director of jazz studies and faculty advisor Larry Dwyer said. This year’s edition of the country’s oldest collegiate jazz festival features nine collegiate bands and one ensemble comprised of the festival’s judges.

“The festival is nationally known as one of the best festivals bands can come to, so we always get really great college bands to play here,” Dwyer said. “We’ve also been able to attract a who’s who of great jazz names to serve as judges over the past 50 years.”

Dwyer said prominent jazz musicians, including this year’s judges, The Clayton Brothers Quartet, are attracted to the festival because it provides a unique opportunity to work with college-age amateur musicians at an entirely student-run festival.

“When we ask former judges why they like coming to this festival, the most common answer is because it’s student-run,” Dwyer said. “They really appreciate that there’s not some professional guy telling them what to do, and they love to work with excellent college musicians to get a chance to impart some expertise and methods to them.”

Festival co-programmer senior Theresa Gildner said the world-class professional talents who judge the festival each year amaze her.

“It always fascinates me to see how many famous jazz musicians have been judges in past years,” Gildner said. “It’s a really cool aspect of the festival.”

Although the festival is noncompetitive, the judges provide detailed critiques and scores for each band, including clinics immediately following their performances, Dwyer said. Judges also perform at the festival each year, and Friday’s “Judges’ Jam” will feature the Grammy-nominated Clayton Brothers.

Among the groups performing over the weekend are the University of Notre Dame Jazz Band I, the University of Illinois Concert Jazz Band and the Alma College Percussion Ensemble. The festival will also feature the University of Western Ontario Jazz Ensemble, marking the first performance by an international band in the festival’s 53-year history, Dwyer said.

For the first time, Notre Dame’s Jazz Band I will perform a song with the Voices of Faith gospel choir, Dwyer said. Sophomore jazz vocalist Allison Jeter will also perform with the Notre Dame ensemble.

Gildner said she is excited to hear her peers perform a wide variety of jazz music at the festival.

“The Alma College Percussion Ensemble will open the show on Friday, and they have a really unique sound that you don’t usually hear in jazz,” Gildner said. “They use steel drums and several other percussion instruments, and sometimes they use string bows on their marimbas, so it’s really cool.”

Dwyer said he hopes the high caliber of this year’s performances will draw a large number of students to the festival, in spite of what may be an unfamiliar genre. 

“A lot of people don’t know a lot about jazz, so if they come to the festival, they might not know what they’re going to hear,” Dwyer said. “But it’s always an exciting show because every band comes to the festival with their killer stuff, and students get to hear their peers play at a high level.”

Gildner said she hopes the festival will help introduce her classmates to a genre of music they are not used to listening to.

“We want to get more students involved with the festival because there’s a generation gap with jazz,” Gildner said. “It’s a great art form, so it’s cool to have the opportunity for students to experience it on campus.”

Performances begin at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Washington Hall. Admission is free for all Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students, but advanced ticketing is recommended and available in the LaFortune Student Center box office. For the general public, tickets are $5 per night or $8 for both nights. An individual ticket is required for each night of the festival.