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64th Annual Collegiate Jazz Festival: a weekend of show-stopping live music

| Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Emma Kirner | The Observer
Image sources: Youtube

Notre Dame hosted its 64th Annual Collegiate Jazz Festival last weekend. The festival featured a live preview Thursday night at the Hagerty Family Cafe Stage where Notre Dame’s New Orleans Band, Jazz Band 1 and Jazz Band 2 gave a free performance. The following Saturday, Jazz Fest streamed virtually from 12 to 4 p.m. and featured performances from five university jazz bands: University of Notre Dame Jazz Band 1, Ashland University Big Band, Michigan State University Jazz II, Columbia College Chicago Fusion Ensemble and Roosevelt University Large Jazz Ensemble. Each band was critiqued by five professional clinicians: Rickey Woodard, Patrick Bartley, Justin Kauflin, John Clayton and David Alvarez III. The weekend ended with a concert by the Clayton Quintet at DeBartolo Performing Arts Center Saturday night.

I had the pleasure of seeing the student bands perform at the Thursday preview concert and on the live stream Saturday. The Thursday night concert brought live music and fun to Duncan Student Center. A social dance floor was set up in front of the stage; it was packed the entire night. For those who did not wish to dance, the concert provided an evening to enjoy a wide swath of jazzy fun with each set attracting a new crowd. They played everything from fast-paced swing music to slower melodic blues. There was even a mambo thrown in there for variety, and the concert enraptured the crowd.

The public venue was well-chosen, as many people passing through Duncan Student Center stopped to watch the performance. Even the rock climbers in the Smith Center for Recreational Sports turned around to watch through the second-floor windows overlooking the stage. Between the three different bands, the concert became a celebration of music in a purely social, low-pressure environment. The performers flourished, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats and the dancers on the tips of their toes.

The following Saturday, Jazz Fest brought together five jazz bands from across the Midwest for a non-competitive afternoon of performances. Each band made its mark with its own unique sound — showcasing the sheer variety of songs that can be found in jazz music. For the uninitiated (i.e. me), it felt like a jazz crash course that showcased the breadth of a very rich and uniquely American music tradition. Within the variety of sounds presented by each band, a constant that carried through all of them was their talent. The skill of all the bands blew me away.

Because it was virtual this year, the audience was smaller than the Thursday performance. However, you can still watch the performance on the University of Notre Dame Band’s YouTube channel.

Each of the bands’ performances was critiqued by a panel of five musical clinicians, which afforded the musicians an opportunity to receive feedback from professionals in a non-competitive setting. The clinicians’ comments had the added benefit of providing a knowledgeable perspective for the audience. The panel highlighted what the bands excelled in and what the audience should listen for.

Many of the comments were centered more on performance than technical correction, (again, a testament to the skill of the musicians) highlighting an important aspect of jazz: history. They reminded the performers to remember and learn about the history of the songs that they were performing to better connect with and embody the soul of the music. They also spoke about returning to the jazz musicians from the past, the writers and inventors of the style, for guidance. As the bands made their own performance choices based on the choices of their predecessors, they demonstrated that jazz is the living embodiment of musical history.

As the nation’s oldest collegiate jazz festival, Jazz Fest plays an important part in continuing that story.


Performance: 2020 Collegiate Jazz Festival

Jazz band participants: University of Notre Dame, Ashland University, Michigan State University, Columbia College Chicago, Roosevelt University

Panelists: Rickey Woodard, Patrick Bartley, Justin Kauflin, John Clayton, David Alvarez III

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

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