The beat returns as normal at one of Missoula’s oldest music festivals.
The 42nd annual Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival at the University of Montana, Thursday-Friday, March 17-18, brings together approximately one thousand local students and a combo of talented guest artists for two days of music, including two evening concerts for the public.
“They’re all phenomenal players, they’re all outstanding educators,” said UM Jazz Program Director Rob Tapper. “They are all wonderful people and great examples for all middle school, high school, and our own college musicians to learn from and ultimately try to emulate in all aspects of their professionalism.”
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The concerts take place on Thursday and Friday. On Thursday, they’ll have the UM faculty, which happens to be a full combo: Johan Eriksson on saxophone, Tapper on trombone, Jeff Troxel on guitar; Tommy Sciple on bass; and Robert LedBetter on drums. Then the outstanding high school musicians of the time, including the best big band sections, the soloist and the festival’s guest quintet. In the second half, the UM Jazz Ensemble will play with various guest soloists. They often send in charts they’ve written or arranged for a big band, “so there’s going to be a lot of music playing that belongs to them,” Tapper said.
On Friday evening you will hear more students and guests. Festival judges will award a new honor, the Chuck and Brooke Florence Saxophone Section Award, which joins others named after local musicians who have contributed to the music community. Larry Gookin, an alumnus, will be awarded an award in his name for the trombone sections as well as that of Lance Boyd, the former director of the program.
Following Friday’s concert, UM students and faculty, festival guests and locals will have an after-hours session at Stave & Hoop.
Nearly 50 Montana and area bands are registered, and there would be more if it weren’t for a shortage of bus drivers in Washington. Registration for the festival opened in late January and “within 24 hours we had about 25 bands,” Tapper said.
Fans of Lyle Lovett and His Large Band have probably heard saxophonist Brad Leali, who held alto in the band for 10 years. He has also performed with the Harry Connick Jr. Orchestra as Music Director and with the Count Basie Orchestra. During his run, their album ‘Count Plays Duke’ won a Grammy Award and he was nominated for his solo on ‘The Star-Crossed Lovers’.
A native of Denver, he teaches at the University of North Texas, known for its One O’Clock Lab Band. This is her second trip to Missoula for the festival.
Seattle trumpeter Jared Hall earned a doctorate in music and has performed with Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, Maria Schneider, Dave Liebman, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Gloria Estefan and many more. A review in All About Jazz said his “expressive, compelling trumpet style delivers a masterful, sweeping sound and a varied emotional landscape.”
Pianist Ben Markley is recognized for his compositions and arrangements. He is the director of Jazz Studios at the University of Wyoming and performs regularly in the Denver area. His project, the Ben Markley Big Band, recorded an album, “Clockwise: The Music of Cedar Walton,” which earned a four-star review in DownBeat in 2017, which called it “addictive music that will leave you wanting more.” grab a partner and hit the dance floor.
Bassist Ashley Summers is another returning guest. A Chicago-based Canadian who has won awards for her songwriting, such as the 2017 “Outstanding New Music Composition” award, in 2017 for “True North,” from the International Society for Jazz Arrangers and Composers.
Drummer Brian Claxton teaches at the University of Northern Colorado, where he received his doctorate. KUVO in Denver called him “a drummer’s drummer” who “just explodes with energy”.
In the wings
Outside the public, guest artists will give master classes, clinics, reviews and workshops with student groups.
They invite everything from “small college combos all the way up to large high school and college bands, so everyone has to do a bit of everything,” Tapper said. “I am totally convinced that each of them can really make a difference in the lives of children and directors.”
Tapper said the jazz program has been “rock and roll,” with enough students to fill six small combos and three large bands. The music school recently renovated the upstairs and downstairs rehearsal rooms.
The transition to normal was tricky for everyone, but he said the students were thrilled.
“They’re all in it. And we want to make sure it’s a great experience, not just for everyone who visits, but also for our students and to make sure they remember, “Oh, yeah. It’s cool,” he said.