a breathtaking weekend of live music // The Observer
Notre Dame welcomed her 64and Annual Collegiate Jazz Festival last weekend. The festival featured a live preview Thursday night at the Hagerty Family Cafe Stage where Notre Dame of New Orleans, Jazz Band 1 and Jazz Band 2 gave a free performance. The following Saturday, Jazz Fest aired virtually from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and featured performances by five college 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 group was reviewed 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 the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on Saturday evening.
I had the pleasure of seeing the student groups perform at the preview concert on Thursday and during the live stream on Saturday. The Thursday night concert brought live music and fun to the Duncan Student Center. A social dance floor was set up in front of the stage; it was crowded all night. For those not wishing to dance, the concert provided an evening to enjoy a wide swath of jazzy fun, with each set drawing a new crowd. They played everything from fast swing music to slower melodic blues. There was even a mambo for variety, and the concert delighted the crowd.
The public venue was well chosen, as many people passing by the Duncan Student Center stopped by to watch the show. Even climbers from the Smith Center for Recreational Sports turned to look through second-story windows overlooking the stage. Between the three different bands, the gig became a celebration of music in a purely social, low-pressure environment. The performers thrived, holding the audience on the edge of their seats and the dancers on tiptoe.
The following Saturday, Jazz Fest brought together five jazz bands from across the Midwest for a non-competitive afternoon of performances. Each group made their mark with their own unique sound – showcasing the wide variety of songs that can be found in jazz music. For the uninitiated (i.e. me), it felt like a crash course in jazz that showcased the breadth of a very rich and unique American musical tradition. In the variety of sounds presented by each band, one constant that ran through them all was their talent. The talent of all the bands blew me away.
Because it was virtual this year, the audience was smaller than Thursday’s performance. However, you can still watch the performance on the University of Notre Dame Band YouTube channel.
Each of the bands’ performances was critiqued by a panel of five music clinicians, allowing the musicians to receive professional feedback in a non-competitive setting. The clinicians’ comments had the added benefit of providing an informed perspective to the audience. The panel highlighted what the bands were good at and what audiences should listen to.
Many of the comments focused more on interpretation than technical correction (again, a testament to the skill of the musicians) highlighting an important aspect of jazz: the story. They reminded performers to remember and learn the history of the songs they performed to better connect and embody the soul of the music. They also talked about going back to jazz musicians of 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 music history.
As the nation’s oldest collegiate jazz festival, Jazz Fest plays an important role in continuing that history.
Performance: Colligate Jazz Festival 2020
Jazz band participants: University of Notre Dame, Ashland University, Michigan State University, Columbia College Chicago, Roosevelt University
Speakers: Rickey Woodard, Patrick Bartley, Justin Kauflin, John Clayton, David Alvarez III
Clovers: 5 out of 5