jazz festival will pay tribute to its founders | Local

The song “We Are the World”, which featured Michael Jackson and 45 singers, won Grammy Awards for Best Record and Song of the Year. The movie “Top Gun” was created. “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was broadcast nationally for the first time. Whoopi Goldberg won a Golden Globe for ‘The Color Purple’. Tina Turner received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

There have been many national achievements in the performing arts industry.

But little did local residents know that something amazing was starting right here in Parkland.

The region’s jazz festival has existed for 36 years now. This year’s event – the Mike O’Brien/Carol Moore Memorial Jazz Festival – takes place March 11-12 at the Mineral Area College Fine Arts Theater and honors Jim Widner, a key figure in the format and the longevity of the jazz festival, which passed away last October.

The festival is sponsored by the Mineral Area Fine Arts Academy and the MAC.

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“We have renamed the Michael O’Brien/Carol Moore Jazz Festival to honor these two people who really built the jazz program at the MAC,” said Kurt Bauche, MAFAA Board Member.

Bauche is co-chair of the jazz festival with Dr. Kevin White.

O’Brien died eight years ago. He taught for more than 20 years at the MAC. Not only did he establish the college’s jazz program, but he also created the Mineral Area Kicks Band, which is now led by Dan Schunks.

“He was a drummer and a very good jazz musician,” Bauche said. “He was also a very good teacher. In fact, many of his students have gone on to pursue careers in music, both in teaching and performing.

North County Band manager Dennis McBride first hosted the event in 1986. He brought along his good friend, well-known and very talented music teacher Jim Widner, to run the first-ever jazz festival in Mineral Area.

McBride worked with Widner for the first festivals, which were held in North County.

Widner grew up in Missouri and attended college at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He then went to Texas where he did graduate work at the University of North Texas. He met fellow graduate student Gregg Bissonette, and the two instantly became lifelong friends.

For this year’s festival, Widner began planning the event last year and recruited Bissonette and other musicians including Ken Kehner, piano; Rick Haydon, guitar; and Eric Warren, bass.

A concert featuring Bissonette in tribute to Widner begins at 7 p.m. that day. The MAFAA Jazz Festival All-Star Band/Combos, Mineral Area Kicks Band and MAFAA Jazz Ensemble will also perform.

Admission is $15 for adults and $5 for children. Those with a MAC ID enter for free. Tickets can be purchased at mafinearts.org.

For more information on this year’s jazz festival, contact [email protected] or call 573-701-6710.

“Jim wanted to be involved with our jazz festival this year for his last hurray,” Bauche said. “He was working on setting up an all-star rhythm section.”

Widner, primarily a bassist, has toured with major bands and played in his own band, the Jim Widner Band for over 30 years. He created the jazz program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis where he taught for decades. He was a founding member of the Jazz Educators Network and also a speaker and director of jazz summer camps. He was a Yamaha performing artist and also owned a music store with his wife. He was also a close friend of former Mineral Area College president Dr. Dixie A. Kohn, who was a strong supporter of the arts at MAC.

Sadly, Widner will not be performing at this year’s jazz festival as he died suddenly of a heart attack in October at the age of 75.

“So now we’re having this festival in memory of Jim,” Bauche said. “I asked Gregg if we could make this concert a tribute to Jim and he said yes, of course.”

There are a few changes for this year’s event. First, the event has a new name: the Mike O’Brien/Carol Moore Memorial Jazz Festival.

In recent years, bands have played both days of the festival. From this year the festival returns to the previous format of competitions on Saturdays followed by a concert in the evening.

The Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) Jazz Band Competition takes place during the day on March 12 at the MAC.

For the competition, 12 groups from nine schools will perform and receive feedback and scores in a competitive setting. Middle and high school bands will be divided into groups based on their enrollment size.

Additionally, Bissonette, Kehner, Haydon and Warren will present a masterclass for student musicians on Saturday noon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Bissonette is best known for his ability to perform in a wide variety of musical styles. From Maynard Ferguson to Ringo Starr, multi-platinum albums, world tours and a Grammy, Bissonette has enjoyed phenomenal success as a musician.

Bauche said Bissonette has “very deep roots in music, from his performances in the late 1970s to his presence in many notable jazz and rock bands.”

Currently, Bissonette is on tour with jazz artist and five-time Grammy winner Victor Wooten.

“We are very happy to have Gregg,” Bauche said. “He is on tour with jazz artist Victor Wooten and was given a break so he could join us here in the mineral area for our festival.”

Pam Clifton is an editor for the Daily Journal

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