Dancing back into the ‘20s

Gatsby’s Gala makes its debut this weekend, event offers music and dancing



Story by Tyler Henderson, Multimedia Editor

While the historical significance of the jazz musicians of the past can’t be ignored, the old will make way for the new in this year’s biggest jazz event of the semester.

Eau Claire Jazz Inc., in association with the UW-Eau Claire Jazz Studies department, is hosting the sold out inaugural Gatsby’s Gala from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. tomorrow in the Ojibwe Ballroom of Davies Center.

This year the jazz program looks to base their new show, which is set to replace Big Band Extravaganza, off of the popular F. Scott Fitzgerald book-turned-movie, “The Great Gatsby.”

“(Big Band Extravaganza) was designed so students could get exposure to music of the big band swing era,” said Robert Baca, trumpet and jazz studies professor. “But we wanted to take a concept that’s very popular with the public, and that’s the Gatsby’s Gala.”

While Jazz I and II are featured, that era’s music won’t be the only thing performed at the event. The two big bands will also split into some small groups playing the likes of Earth Wind and Fire, Curtis Mayfield, Beyonce and even the popular theme from the 2013 movie adaptation, “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody.”

“The world is changing now, and jazz is fusing with every other style of music more than ever,” Baca said. “Jazz lends a sophistication to pop music.”

The music department even commissioned a musical piece to be written specifically for the event by award-winning alumnus Aaron Hedenstrom, a saxophonist and composer who graduated in 2011.

Audience members are encouraged to dress for the time period, and the post-prohibition theme will be in full effect with alcohol also served. Gatsby’s Gala aims to be a party “worthy of Gatsby himself,” Ellie Larson, Eau Claire Jazz Inc. intern, said.

“We wanted to revamp the whole thing to create something that people would be really excited about and to showcase the wonderful jazz musicians the school has to offer,” Larson said.

The Ojibwe Ballroom will have grandiose lighting, a large dance floor and food and drink for the patrons to enjoy, Larson said.

“When the party-goers walk into the Ojibwe Ballroom, that sort of excitement and opulence … the party atmosphere is definitely something that we’ve been working on,” she said.

While the event focuses on the jazz studies program and the musicians playing that night, Baca said Gatsby’s Gala will be a totally different view of the music department and the regular concerts they put on.  

“This will be different than the Big Band Extravaganza,” Baca said. “There will still be a show, but it will be more of a party; the music will be non-stop, and the variety of things happening on stage will be much wider.”

The event organizers don’t have too high of expectations for the first-year show, but the event sold out at 820 tickets on Wednesday.

As it begins, those audience members will hear the sounds of the 1920s. But by the end, popular new music in the last set will bring the show full-circle.

“This isn’t a concert,” Baca said. “It’s a party.”