The CU Jazz Festival will bring the bebop back to the area

It bothered Bill Evans, acclaimed 20th century American jazz pianist, whenever people attempted “to analyze jazz as an intellectual theorem.” For Evans, such intellectualizing always proved fruitless, since at its core, jazz remains simple: “It’s feeling.” Originating as a confluence of African and European musical traditions, jazz has evolved into a fascinating conglomeration of euphonic sub-genres. Jazz’s unceasing ability to attract a wide audience eager to experience the music’s “pure emotion” is evident throughout the CU community, from U of I’s own Jazz Studies department to the weekly regulars at Zorba’s “Jazz Nights” and the cozy stage AT Urbana’s Iron Post.
This summer, our campus will again be blessed with a three day jazz extravaganza, showcasing the true ambition of U of I’s rapidly growing jazz program. A collaborative production of U of I jazz faculty, “Summer Jazz Festival 2008” will commence this June 4, at 7:30 p.m. at the Krannert Center’s Colwell Playhouse. The guest talents of jazz vocalist Lisanne Lyons, trombonist Jim Pugh, and saxophone soloist Chip McNeill will be featured on the first day of performance, along with jazz concertos with full symphony orchestra. According to McNeill, the University’s Studio Jazz Orchestra, under the conduction of Maestro Eduardo Diaz-Munoz, will “feature works by Shilkret, Columbier, Arlen and arrangements by Robert Farnon, Mike Lewis,” and himself. An added bonus, the June 4 performance includes a pre-concert talk in the Tyron Festival Theatre foyer hosted by Gabriel Solis, an assistant professor of musicology specializing in African-American music. Celebrating the works of Canadian jazz legend Maynard Ferguson, the second and third day of the festival will resurrect pieces from the artist’s Big Bop Nouveau and Birdland Dream Band days.
Chip McNeill, skilled jazz tenor saxophonist and Chair of Jazz Studies, hopes the festival will serve as a celebration of Ferguson’s myriad contributions to the canon of jazz music. “We also hope to feature some of the great alumni that passed through his bands in recent years, as we have five of them with us including myself,” McNeill adds. Such alumni will certainly be featured in the festival’s second day tribute to Big Bop Nouveau, a “pocket big band” comprised of three saxophones, one trombone, three trumpets, and a rhythm section. Formed in the late 1980s, McNeill describes Ferguson’s project as a “high-powered bebop band with high-energy soloists.” Affectionately nicknamed “The Boss” by those who worked with him, Ferguson strove to foster a sense of musical camaraderie among peers and disciples alike. Hopefully, Summer Jazz Festival 2008 will accomplish just that. “We all miss ‘The Boss’ very much, but still feel his great spirit every time we play the music,” McNeill concludes.
To experience what American orchestral leader Paul Whiteman long-ago termed “the folk music of the machine age,” check out Summer Jazz Festival 2008, June 4-6 at the Krannert Center’s Colwell Playhouse. Visit the ticket booth, or purchase tickets online at:

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