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Alumnus honored through jazz festival

By Regina Pergola
On February 7, 2017

As a part of the 16th annual Bill Evans Jazz Festival, musicians, such as the one featured above, play in honor of the deceased jazz musician from Feb. 15-18.
File Photo/The Lion's Roar 

In honor of Bill Evans, jazz pianist and alumni, the music department holds a jazz festival every year. This year’s festival will take place from Feb. 15-18, with various concerts and ensembles.

“The Bill Evans Jazz Fest is an annual festival,” said Dale Newkirk, professor of Fine and Performing Arts Department and Director of the Southeastern Contemporary Art Gallery. “However, this year we moved it up a little bit. I felt that it’s date, at least last year, was so late in the semester that it didn’t really get the kind of focus that I wanted it to have. People were kind of worn out from all the stuff going on during the school year. So we moved it up.”

Evans was a 1950 graduate of the university before he became a well known and popular musician. Evans died in 1980 but is remembered through his music.

“Part of this is to continue his legacy but also to make students aware of his importance in jazz and in the music world in general,” said Newkirk. “A lot of students don’t know who he is, but if you just Google his name, you’re going to find that he’s probably the most important jazz pianist in, at least, contemporary times. It was around the ‘60s and the ‘70s, but he was an alumni here, so he’s from Southeastern.”

The variety of the festival depends on the different musicians that will participate and perform for interested patrons.

“We’ll be having an alumni jazz ensemble, directed by Ron Nethercutt, who’s a former faculty member here,” said Newkirk. “We’re gonna have John Madere. He’s gonna be directing the SLU jazz combo, Michael Brothers is a percussionist on drums and he’s gonna be playing and involved. He, as well as Derek Stoughton, has been the organizers of this, so we’ve been putting more attention to it.”

The festival will showcase Evans’ works and other materials from his music career from the archives that are stored in the Sims Library. 

“In addition to this, we’re going to have a show in the gallery from the archives of Bill Evans to kind of include album covers and his Grammy Award program when he was given the Grammy the same year Frank Sinatra was,” said Newkirk. “His senior recital was here. We’re going to have the piano restored for this festival that he played his senior recital on, and it’ll have a plaque on it. So, we still have two of the pianos that he played on. One he did his senior recital on, and one he did a concert here after he graduated.”

Newkirk extended the invitation to beyond just the university students and faculty for the various parts of the festival.

“They’ll be visiting master classes and workshops,” said Newkirk. “High school students interested in jazz will be here for this event as well as other people that are interested in attending the various concerts. It’s all kind of centered around his music, so the exhibition will be the whole of that.”

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