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Jazz Festival marks 40 years

February 26, 2014 2:45PM

For 40 years, the Pittsburg State University Jazz Festival has celebrated the music widely considered the only original American art form. The event, scheduled this year on Friday, March 7, has evolved into what organizers believe to be the biggest one-day jazz festival in the Midwest.

“Dr. Russell Jones began the festival in 1974,” said Bob Kehle, a member of the faculty in PSU’s Department of Music and director of the festival. “It has grown from about 14 bands in the beginning to its current size of more than 60 groups.”

Kehle said that at its core, the festival exists to allow young musicians to share their love of jazz through performance, to learn from talented music educators and to experience jazz in a concert setting.

“The festival has brought in such jazz educators and groups as Louis Bellson, Maynard Ferguson and His Big Bop Nouveau, The U.S. Air Force Airmen of Note, the Count Basie Band, the Roy Hargrove Quartet, Jon Faddis with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and the Steve Turre Quartet,” Kehle said. “It is rare for students growing up in the middle of the U.S. to have an opportunity to hear and learn from some of these legendary jazz figures.”

Kehle said the festival’s growth has made it necessary to spread the daytime performance venues to four sites. This year, students will perform at the Sharon Kay Dean Recital Hall and the Overman Student Center on campus and both upstairs and downstairs at Pittsburg’s Memorial Auditorium. Despite the growth, Kehle said, the festival has maintained its strong educational goal of assisting jazz educators and students.

This year, the PSU Jazz Festival will draw 66 bands from schools in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. The participants include large schools from Kansas City, Springfield, Tulsa and Wichita as well as bands from smaller districts close to home.

Beginning at 8 a.m. and continuing throughout the day, the bands will perform for a group of experienced educators and performers. Kehle said the clinicians will work with the groups at the end of their performance and will give a rating, but no winners are chosen.

“We do not pick winners as this is geared more as an educational event,” Kehle said.

The festival concludes with the Jazz Festival Concert at 7:30 p.m. in Memorial Auditorium. PSU’s Jazz Ensemble I will open the concert and will feature Russell Jones, the founder of the festival and chairman of the PSU Department of Music, who is going on phased retirement at the end of this academic year.

Bob Mintzer and his Grammy Award winning LA Big Band will follow the PSU Jazz Ensemble.

A respected educator, saxophonist Mintzer is a 20-year member of the Grammy-Award-winning Yellowjackets and is the recipient of the Buzz McCoy endowed chair of jazz studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Based in L.A., Mintzer continues to conduct clinics and workshops worldwide. He has also written nearly 20 books, which have become an important part of the curriculum of Jazz education around the globe.

Mintzer writes for orchestra, concert band and big band, with more than 200 charts to his credit. His big band music is performed by groups all over the planet. As an instrumentalist, Mintzer has recorded some 30 solo projects. He received four Grammy nominations and a Grammy Award for best large jazz ensemble recording in 2001 for “Homage to Count Basie” on the DMP label.

In addition to performing that evening, Mintzer will conduct a master class for students at the festival.

Daytime performances are free and open to the public. Tickets are required for the evening concert and are $15. Tickets are available at the PSU Ticket Office, 1701 S. Homer, 620-235-4796,, or at the door the evening of the performance, if available.

©2014 Pittsburg State University