Jazz at the Arts Center series to offer diverse pool of talent

Lawrence isn't exactly known for its jazz scene. But for the next several months the style will find a home in one of the city's more nontraditional music venues.

Jazz at the Arts Center will run monthly through April at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.

"We realized that the theater we had was a great size for that," says Ann Evans, arts center director. "Plus, there is not a lot of competition, so there was a real need to have live jazz."

A panel comprised of Kansas University's director of jazz studies Dan Gailey, arts center board president Jason Edmonds, KU professor/musician Chuck Berg and concert promoter Bob McWilliams went about selecting the acts.

"We wanted some contemporary, we wanted some vocalists and we wanted a big band," Evans says.

Kansas City singer Kevin Mahogany was chosen to kick off tonight's debut show.

Evans felt strongly about also having at least one artist who could stretch the audience's perception of what jazz is. According to organizers, that's Jane Ira Bloom.

"It's definitely not going to be your standard jazz concert because (her) music is actually based off of Jackson Pollock paintings," Gailey explains.

"She's visually very striking when she plays. She sets up this sonic field with multiple microphones ... I hate to use that stupid buzzword, but it really is a 'multimedia' event. Because then they also superimpose projections of the paintings on which the composition is based."

Other scheduled performers include saxophonist Dave Pietro's Banda Brazil, saxophonist Phil Woods, pianist Cyrus Chestnut and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon.

Ticket sales have been strong, despite the fact Lawrence invariably lives in the shadow of Kansas City's jazz scene.

"It's a niche art form," Gailey says. "You're talking music that only takes up 2 percent of the whole market. When you're talking a town of 80,000, even with a relatively arts-aware population, it's not a huge section of the population that gets it."

The organizers hope this series may make a few converts out of the River City community.

"It's a great chance to catch some national acts," Gailey adds. "And the venue is perfect. In some ways, it's the best venue in town for this sort of thing."

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