February 17, 2016

SIU Jazz Fest features notable guest artist

by Andrea Hahn

Charles McPhersonCARBONDALE, Ill. – The SIU Jazz Festival isn’t just about past jazz greats. That’s only part of it. 

The annual event, scheduled for Feb. 27 at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is an educational and competitive event for junior high and high school musicians from the region. It’s also an opportunity for jazz lovers and would-be lovers in the area to hear a high-quality performance from a specially selected guest artist. 

This year’s guest is Charles McPherson, a saxophone virtuoso and jazz composer from Joplin, Mo., and Detroit, Mich. He began his professional career at 19, playing almost immediately with the legendary Charles Mingus. He’s played with almost everyone worth name-dropping in the jazz world, and he is himself a name to drop for musicians who’ve played with him. 

His performance for the public begins at 7 p.m. in Shyrock Auditorium. Tickets are $5, though SIU students with student I.D. get in for free. He’ll also play with the SIU Studio Jazz Orchestra at 12:30 p.m. in Shryock, and host a clinic there at 1 p.m. He also teaches a masterclass for the SIU Jazz Festival participants at noon in Alteld Hall. 

“It is extremely rare for an artist of his caliber to be in Southern Illinois,” Dick Kelley, director of jazz studies, said. “His sound is very energetic and his improvisational ideas area as melodic as they come. I think the audience is in for a real treat, served up by one of the few masters we have left in this music.” 

The other special guests that day are the student musicians. Coming from 10 schools in the area, they’ll play with their ensembles in competition, they’ll receive critiques, masterclasses and clinics, and they’ll have the chance to return home with band, section or individual trophies. 

They’ll also learn that jazz isn’t just a thing of the past, that it continues to influence today’s music. Giving that fresh perspective is part of why SIU hosts the jazz festival, Kelley said. Providing an inspiration and a reward for hard work is another. 

“I think an emphasis on jazz education has increasing importance in our school, because jazz elements are being explored and rediscovered in much of America’s popular music,” Kelley said. “When I was younger and participating in these types of festivals, I always went home invigorated to work harder and try to be better… We hope to offer that kind of experience to our participants.” 

Here’s a schedule of student performances.

9:35 a.m. – Sparta High School

10 a.m. – Thomas W. Kelly High School (Benton, Mo.)

10:25 a.m. – Northwest High School (Hughesville, Mo.)

10:50 a.m. – Dexter Middle School (Dexter, Mo.)

11:15 a.m. – Woodland High School (Streator, Ill.)

3 p.m. – Carterville High School

3:25 p.m. - De Soto High School (De Soto, Mo.)

3:50 p.m. – Westmont High School (Westmont, Ill.)

4:15 p.m. – Dexter High School (Dexter, Mo.)

4:40 p.m. – Jackson High School (Jackson, Mo.)