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Notre Dame to host 49th annual jazz festival

Michelle Fordice | Thursday, February 22, 2007

The annual Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival, the oldest college jazz festival in the nation, returns to Washington Hall for its 49th year today through Saturday. Notre Dame will welcome 10 other university bands to the campus. They will be judged by five acclaimed jazz musicians who provide critiques and advice, both with the bands one-on-one and with the general public in a series of workshops.

The Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz festival would be a wonderful event if only for the music and culture it brings to South Bend, but it also serves as a promoter of jazz music throughout the country.

Since 1959, the festival, hosted by the Student Union Board, has invited many famous jazz musicians to the Notre Dame campus. These have included Bill Evans, Quincy Jones, Julian (Cannonball) Adderley, Herbie Hancock, Ray Brown, Wynton Marsalis, Dee Dee Bridgewater and John Clayton.

Over the years many different university bands have been invited to Notre Dame. These have included those from somewhat lesser-known schools, increasing the variety of the festival and helping to encourage jazz music everywhere. This also makes the festival a wonderful source of new talent. Recordings of many of the past performances, dating all the way back to the first festival, can be found in the University Archives at the Hesburgh Library.

While the festival is an invitation-based event, it is non-competitive, alternatively centering on education. Instead of ranking the bands, judges select an outstanding musician from each group and then provide the group as a whole with feedback about their performance.

Workshops and clinics, offered to anyone who wishes to attended, further emphasize the learning aspect of the festival. These clinics are hosted by the judges as they talk about their craft and give advice to the participants. All of this makes for a more constructive result compared to a simple competition.

This year’s twelve invited universities include Western Michigan University, Indiana University, the University of Illinois, Roosevelt University, Alma College, Shenandoah University, Slippery Rock University, Southern Illinois University, Columbia College, and Capital University, as well as Notre Dame.

Not every group is a full band – octets, quintets, and percussion ensembles are also featured. Furthermore, as each band comes from different areas and influences and will be doing their best to display a wide range of styles for the judges, many different jazz sounds will emerge over the course of the weekend for the audience to hear.

This year’s judges are Jon Faddis (trumpet), James Carter (saxophone), Joan Hickey (piano), Rodney Whitaker (bass) and Carl Allen (drums). Each judge specializes in a different instrument so that the college bands can be critiqued from a variety of viewpoints. This also allows certain sections of the band to be examined for their own merit apart from the whole.

Best of all, Friday night the judges will take the stage together, without rehearsal, to play and exhibit their prowess.

Jon Faddis, known internationally for his ability to play in the high range of the trumpet, is currently the director of both the Chicago Jazz Ensemble and the Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra and is a teacher and artist-in-residence at the Conservatory of Music, Purchase College-SUNY. He has played with Charles Mingus, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band, the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni Band and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. His discography includes “Teranga” and the Grammy nominated “Remembrances.”

James Carter has mastered several jazz instruments, but is best known for the saxophone. He has received the Dr. Alaine Locke award, one of the nation’s greatest cultural honors, named after one of the beacons of the Harlem Renaissance. His discography includes “Chasin’ the Gypsy,” “Layin’ in the Cut,” “Jurassic Classics” and “Gardenias for Lady Day,” a tribute to Bille Holiday.

Joan Hickey is a freelance pianist from Chicago who also teaches at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois. She has toured in Italy, Sweden and Denmark with the Jazz Members Big Band and been awarded two National Endowment for the Arts grants and an Illinois Arts Council grant in music composition. Her discography includes “Between the Lines” and “Soulmates.”

Rodney Whitaker is an associate professor of double bass and the Director of Jazz Studies at the Michigan State University School of Music as well as a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and a conductor and consultant for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Civic Jazz Orchestra. He has also toured internationally with the Roy Hargrove Quintet, written a film score for PBS’s “China” and served as a professor at Julliard Institute of Jazz. Whitaker has been featured on hundreds of albums.

Carl Allen is an acclaimed drummer and the co-founder of Big Apple Productions. His discography includes “The Pursuer” and “Testimonial.” He regularly gives clinics at universities and music stores which his website says covers topics such as: time and it’s variations, playing from a melodic perspective, soloing and Grooves, back to basics (for all levels), keeping the gig (after you have gotten it) and the business of being a musician, so look forward to that for his workshop.

All events of the Notre Dame Jazz Festival are open to the public and free of charge for students and those under 18. Tickets are required for adults for the Friday and Saturday sessions ($7 for both nights or $5 for one night) and are available in advance at the LaFortune box office.

For the 49th year, not only will Notre Dame get to witness some of the nation’s greatest collegiate jazz bands play their best, but the university will also provide a forum for their development and the encouragement of jazz as a whole.

The Notre Dame Jazz Festival is one of Notre Dame’s best traditions, and should not be missed.