The state of jazz

Cutting-edge musicians headline KU festival

Dan Gailey, director of jazz studies at Kansas University, sees a split coming.

On one side are the Wynton Marsalises of the jazz world, or the neo-traditionalists who want to define jazz in a way that excludes some contemporary and innovative artists.


Jazz saxophonist Dave Pietro will perform Saturday night at the KU Jazz Festival in the Lied Center.

On the other are the John Abercrombies, those who accept jazz as a genre that can and should absorb influences from around the world.

"We're at a time when we need to assess what is important to jazz," Gailey said.

Marsalis and others, he said, are trying to preserve jazz music as "the American classical music and the most important African-American music coming from this part of the world." And while he appreciates where they are coming from, Gailey believes jazz also is about creating new music.

"Anything is fair game for people who are pushing the music, and who are not saying this is jazz and this isn't. The music has always been about other influences."

In a similar light, the annual KU Jazz Festival coordinated by Gailey tries to bring some of the world's most innovative jazz musicians to the Lied Center stage. At the top of this year's list is guitarist Abercrombie and his quartet, saxophonist Davie Pietro and trumpet player Scott Wendholt.

"These people are at the edge of what's happening and challenging (in the jazz world)," Gailey said.

On the list

The concerts for the three-day KU Jazz Festival begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Master of ceremonies is Chuck Berg, jazz critic, jazz saxophonist, flutist and head of the KU film studies program.

What: KU Jazz Festival.When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.Where: Lied Center.Acts: � Thursday: KU Jazz Singers and two other KU vocal jazz ensembles.� Friday: John Abercrombie Quartet, KU Jazz Combo I.� Saturday: Saxophonist Dave Pietro and trumpet player Scott Wendholt, KU Jazz Ensemble I, Middle Tennessee State University Jazz Ensemble I.Tickets: $7 for general public and $5 for students on Thursday night and$14 for general public and $10 for students on Friday and Saturday nights. Tickets available at: Lied Center Box Office, 864-ARTS; Murphy Hall BoxOffice, 864-3982; and Student Union Activities Box Office, 864-3477.

Here's the lineup for the festival:

l Thursday: KU Jazz Singers and the second and third KU jazz vocal ensembles.

The KU Jazz Singers, under the direction of Mitos Cox, have helped establish the vocal jazz movement in the Midwest. The group has performed with Jon Hendricks, Bobby McFerrin, the Four Freshmen, Marvis Rivers and Sunny Wilkinson.

Graduate teaching assistant Kerry Marsh directs the other two vocal ensembles.

l Friday: The John Abercrombie Quartet and the KU Jazz Combo I.

Abercrombie began playing guitar when he was 14 and studied at Boston's Berklee School of Music. He has toured exclusively and recorded four albums with Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland. In 1979, he formed his own quartet and later a trio, playing with Ralph Towner, Kenny Wheeler, Richie Beirach, George Mraz, Peter Donald, Dan Wall and Marc Johnson.

The KU Jazz Combo I, under the direction of Josh Sclar, is made up of some of the KU jazz studies department's best musicians. In 1994, the group received the Down Beat Student Music Award as the Best College Blues/Pop/Rock Instrumental Group in the United States and Canada.

l Saturday: Pietro, Wendholt, KU Jazz Ensemble I, Middle Tennessee State University Jazz Ensemble I.

Pietro has been on the New York jazz scene since 1987. He toured extensively with the Woody Herman Young Thundering Heard, the Lionel Hampton Big Band and Maynard Ferguson's Big-Bop Nouveau Band.

He has performed with Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney, Harry Connick Jr., Liza Minnelli and John Pizzarelli. He has recorded four albums.

Wendholt, who also lives in New York, has been recorded on more than 30 CDs and has played with the Carnegie Hall Big Band, Maria Schneider's Big Band and the Buddy Rich Big Band. He now solos with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and contributed to the Grammy Award-nominated "Lickety Split."

Gailey directs the KU Jazz Ensemble I, which was named co-winner of the 1997 Down Beat Student Music Award for Best College Big Band in the United States and Canada. Together with the KU Jazz Singers, the ensemble released the CD, "Guarabe," in 1992.

The Middle Tennessee State University Jazz Ensemble I, directed by Dana Landry, concentrates on cutting-edge material from the big band repertoire.

During the day on Friday and Saturday, more than 70 middle school, high school and university instrumental and vocal jazz ensembles throughout the Midwest with perform and receive critiques from jazz educators.

These performances, which are free and open to the public, will be in the Lied Center or in the new wing of Murphy Hall.


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