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Coming with Bill Evans Jazz Festival

By Zachary Araki
On March 13, 2018

The 17th annual “Bill Evans Jazz Festival” will be accompanied by a few features to distinguish it from past festivals including a return of performing high school bands and first time funding by sponsors. File Photo/The Lion’s Roar

In the fall, the department of music and performing arts will begin to offer a jazz studies concentration. The university’s connection to jazz pianist Bill Evans prompted Lecturer of Percussion Michael Brothers to create this concentration.

“In addition to my percussion background, I have a very lengthy and strong jazz background,” said Brothers. “I have a very deep appreciation for who Bill Evans is and his music and his significance in jazz history and the contributions he’s made. So, to me, to walk the halls of this building, in the original Pottle building in those practice rooms, that’s where he was. That’s where he practiced. The Steinway piano that he played his senior recital on, we still have. It’s in the rehearsal hall here. I use that piano with the jazz ensemble.”

Brothers discussed how he started the process of making the concentration.

“The one thing that struck me right away when I took this position is to be the alma mater of one of the most important figures of jazz history, how is it we don’t have some form of a jazz studies degree?” said Brothers. “Asking a simple question, I went to our department chair, and I basically asked the question. He said, ‘Well, can you create one?’ So, I did. I have some very close friends who run jazz programs at other universities in the country. One is at the University of Alabama. Another one is head of the jazz program at Arizona State. I spoke with them. I spoke to some other friends and got a sense of what is involved.”

The basis for a jazz studies concentration existed before Brothers started the process.

“Many of the classes we would need to offer the concentration, we already had in the catalogue,” said Brothers. “They existed, but nobody was doing anything with them. That made it somewhat easier that we had some of the pieces in place, and I put the pieces together. I think in past years they used some of those courses, but nobody had thought of taking all those courses and combining them together to have a jazz degree. And then, the only thing we needed to do was create three additional courses to round out the degree.”

Finalizing the concentration involved drafting and revising a proposal to meet academic standards with the help of other music faculty.

“Our department chair sent it to the dean,” said Brothers. “She sent it to the provost, and each step of the way it’s gone, it’s been approved and been met with great enthusiasm by the administration, and the other committees in the university are excited we’re gonna have that offering.”

Lecturer of Double Bass Dr. John Madere discussed the unique quality of jazz music.

“Jazz is unique because it was born in America, Louisiana to be exact,” said Madere. “Most of the music studied in music schools comes from the European tradition, so having a genre of music that is ‘homegrown’ is very special. Jazz is also unique in that it was developed by people of all races and creeds. It’s fitting that it was developed in Louisiana as jazz is like a melting pot of music. A little bit of classical elements and little bit of blues and countless other influences like Latin and African music were used in the genesis of jazz.”

High school groups will once again perform at the “Bill Evans Jazz Festival” after a one-year hiatus. The festival will be a chance to advertise and recruit for the new jazz studies concentration.

“They’re coming to participate in the festival, and a panel of adjudicators is gonna work with them,” said Brothers. “Each group will get a performance. The judges will work with them after. It’s open to any school group in the region. We’re gonna have 15 groups from around the state coming to participate.”

A new concentration is not the only newcomer accompanying the festival. Funded at initiation by a visual arts grant in 2002, the festival has funding from sponsors for the first time.

“This is the first year that we’ve sought sponsors for the festival,” said Brothers. “We’ve just kind of reached a point we need to have some outside help. So, Lafargue Pianos in Metairie, they’re our major sponsor this year, and we’re grateful about that. North Oaks Health System here is gonna be a sponsor for the festival, and Tangi Meats, which is a local restaurant here, just yesterday agreed to be a sponsor for the festival.”

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