Bill Evans Jazz Festival returns for 20th anniversary

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Brynn Lundy/The Lion's Roar

The music department and the Hammond Rotary Club hosted “An Evening of Jazz“ in February 2020. This semester, the university’s jazz bands have been rehearsing for the Bill Evans Jazz Festival, April 14-17, after the festival was canceled last year.

The 20th anniversary of the Bill Evans Jazz Festival will commence on Wednesday, April 14 through Saturday, April 17, to showcase university student and faculty jazz performances in addition to a guest artist and other school groups from around the region.

After last year’s festival was canceled, Director of Jazz and Percussion Studies Michael Brothers set out to plan this year’s celebration and was able to get the event approved by the university with several new restrictions in place.

Brothers said the event usually allows for up to 25 groups from schools around the region to register for performances as a part of the university’s partnership with the Louisiana Association for Jazz Education. Less than 15 groups are participating this year, but Brothers said the schools, as well as Southeastern, are grateful for the opportunity.

“A lot of them haven’t even been able to rehearse. The ones that have, they’re really grateful that they have a chance to come and play. It’s not only good for them, it’s good for us because a lot of people are very excited that Southeastern’s been able to get it together to make it happen,” he said.

The Alumni Jazz Ensemble will open the festival on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Pottle Annex Recital Hall. On Thursday, regional student jazz groups will perform from 2:15 to 6 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., the university’s advanced jazz combo and jazz lab band will perform.

On Friday and Saturday, more student groups will perform from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. University jazz faculty will perform with the guest artist at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. The University Jazz Ensemble will perform with the guest artist to close out the festival on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. 

This year’s guest artist is pianist Frank Martin. Brothers said inviting a pianist was a significant element for the 20th anniversary since the festival honors famous pianist and Southeastern alumnus Bill Evans. 

“He’s really an amazing piano player, but he’s done everything in the music business that you can possibly do. He’s a renowned performer, producer, arranger, conductor, educator, and he has worked with just about everybody imaginable in the music business,” Brothers said. 

In addition to KSLU assisting with livestreaming and scheduling, Brothers said he has gotten help from student service organizations, such as Kappa Kappa Psi and Phi Mu Alpha, in planning the event. 

KKP President Aaron Loupe, a senior music education major, said the group has been working to sanitize band rooms in between rehearsals.

“The group’s whole purpose of being on campus is to help serve college and university bands, so it’s good to be able to have a group like that come through and dedicate their time and energy to helping make sure things go smoothly and things are clean,” Loupe said.

Brothers described the purpose of the Bill Evans Jazz Festival tradition, a celebration intended to expose and educate the public of the jazz music industry and the artists within it. 

He said, “The overall component of the festival is the music part of it bringing the guests to town––we’ve worked really hard to make it an event for the community which it has become––but there’s also a big educational component as well, not only for the students here in the music department but for the school groups in the region.”

Ian Cassidy, a graduate assistant for Brothers, has been aiding in the festival’s organization and will continue to contribute during festival week. He described why people should tune in virtually to the performances. 

He said, “Between the alumni band, the actual university band, the jazz combo and the high schools that are coming in for the competition, there will be a huge variety of things for people to enjoy.”

Brothers said he has been working on finalizing plans to move next year’s evening concerts to the Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts. 

He said, “I’m very excited about that. That’ll be a big deal. And it’s downtown––I want more of the festival to be in the community.”

While the shows are not open to the public this year, all concerts will be livestreamed via KSLU’s Facebook page, which is a first for the festival. The LAJE performances will be in the Pottle Auditorium and the evening concerts will be in the Pottle Annex Recital Hall.