MU Jazz Fest to feature Airmen of Note

Airmen of Note, considered the premier jazz ensemble of the U.S. Air Force, will headline the 44th annual Marshall University Jazz Festival, which begins Thursday, Jan. 31, and continues through Saturday, Feb. 2.  Performances will take place at 7 p.m. each evening in the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center.

“The Jazz Festival is one of the many programs put forth by the College of Fine Arts, funded in-part by the president’s office of Marshall University and the Marshall University Foundation,” said Dr. Sean Parsons, assistant professor of music in jazz studies at Marshall. “By bringing performers to campus as part of this festival, it is one way to share music and art with the university and community.”

Admission to the concerts will be free; however, tickets are required and can be picked up the nights of the performances at the Joan C. Edwards box office.

The festival begins Thursday evening with a performance by this year’s high school honor ensemble, The Patriot, from Parkersburg South High School, under the direction of Eric Staats. Afterward there will be a performance by MU student combos.

Staats, the director of bands at Parkersburg South High School and a Marshall alumnus, said the jazz ensemble is one of two auditioned jazz bands at Parkersburg South.

“The band has 23 members who range in grade level from 9 through 12,” Staats said. “These students are intensely motivated musicians who choose to study their craft in greater depth. They were also featured performers at the Universal Studios, Orlando, ‘STARS’ performance series in 2012 and were used in the theme park’s marketing/publicity materials.”

The Marshall University Alumni Big Band will perform Friday night, followed by Marshall University 12.0 and guest artists. Parsons said the alumni band is an ensemble that spans four decades, made up of many musicians who studied jazz at Marshall. The ensemble is being led by alumnus and Marshall music faculty member Jeff Wolfe.

“The groups will be top notch, including our own 12.0 Jazz Ensemble and top jazz combo, Project Postbop,” said Dr. Martin Saunders, associate professor of music in trumpet and jazz studies and director of the 12.0 Jazz Ensemble. “The 12.0 performs every year as part of the jazz festival, and has performed with several notable, highly regarded guest artists.”

Saturday is the closing night, with a performance by the Thundering Herd All-Star Band and the featured guests, Airmen of Note. The Thundering Herd All-Star Band is a group of select high school musicians who come together in a jazz ensemble, working over the period of a few days to perform a concert, Parsons said.  This year features students from six different high schools and will be led by Steve Roberts, director of jazz at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“Audience members who attend on Saturday night will hear one of the premier jazz ensembles on the planet, the U.S. Air Force Airmen of Note,” Saunders said. “I’m excited to hear the Airmen of Note since I used to be part of the Air Force Bands program and the pianist is a good friend from that previous experience.”

According to their website, the Airmen of Note was created in 1950 to carry on the tradition of Maj. Glenn Miller’s Army Air Corps dance band. Today the “Note” features 18 of the most talented jazz musicians in the country and is one of the last touring big bands. As a result, it has earned an international reputation as one of the finest and most versatile big bands of its kind in the world.

Staats and Parsons also expressed their excitement about getting to work with the Airmen of Note and hearing them perform.

“When I was a teenager, I distinctly remember listening to the Airmen of Note recordings and attending concerts anytime they were within driving distance either with my father, a veteran of the USAF, or my junior high band director,” Parsons said. “It’s a terrific honor for me to help organize a performance by not only one of the finest jazz ensembles in the world, but also a group that had such a profound impact on my musicianship.”

The festival is beneficial in many ways, Parsons said. Not only is it entertaining, but it is also serves as an educational experience for the students participating. Throughout the day prior to the evening concerts the festival will feature 11 junior high and high school ensembles from around the region.  They will perform at Joan C. Edwards, and are adjudicated and given a workshop by guest clinicians, who are renowned educators.

The 44th annual Marshall University Jazz Festival is in memory of trombonist Jim Groscup, a Marshall alumnus and active member of the musical community.

Questions about the festival may be directed to Parsons at ext.6-6459 by phone or by e-mail.