All that jazz and a whole lot more

Kathlyn Hotynski

By Janie Boschma

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Driving bass lines. Syncopated rhythms. Soothing saxophones. Piercing trumpets.

These were all common sounds this weekend at UW-Eau Claire’s annual Jazz Festival.

In celebration of the festival’s 40th anniversary, world-renowned jazz artists Benny Green, Kevin Mahogany and Stanley Jordan presented afternoon clinics and performed at evening concerts Friday and Saturday at Eau Claire Memorial High School.

In a typical year, the festival features two guest artists instead of three, and festival director Robert Baca said the guests’ level of fame and talent helped make this year’s event a “real blowout.” He said they were saving for several years to raise enough money to bring the musicians to Eau Claire for the 40th anniversary.

A total of 70 bands from throughout the Midwest performed and were critiqued during the afternoon sessions at college day on Friday and high school day on Saturday.

The day’s top school in the combo and big band categories also performed at the concerts.

Festival coordinator and senior Holly Samson said the emphasis of the festival is more on learning rather than competition – to foster a stronger love and understanding of music.

“That’s really what it’s all about – opening up a new world,” she said. “Music isn’t about who’s the best, but how many people you can reach through your music and also better yourself.”

Although freshman Wilson Holzhaeuser did not perform at the event, he said working at Jazz Festival and listening to the judge’s critiques of other bands gave him ideas to improve his own performance with Eau Claire’s Jazz Ensemble 4.

Lacey Buchda, a sophomore at Sparta High School, agreed.

“I definitely got a wider view of jazz seeing how other people play,” she said.

Because the festival is one of the largest and oldest of its kind in the nation, Samson said she would like to reach farther out into the community next year.

To do so, she said next year’s festival will morph from a weekend event to an all-week celebration. Samson and Baca said they are working on collaborating with various local businesses to schedule jazz performances every day of the week.

Baca said they will invite ensembles from across the country to participate and will also advertise on a national level.

They will begin organizing for the 2008 event this week, he said.

Baca, who is also the director of jazz studies, said Eau Claire has a lot to be proud of musically.

“Eau Claire is on the map in the jazz community,” he said. “Next year we hope to let the rest of the country become more aware of what we have here.”