25th annual jazz fest provides a weekend of culture infused, energy pumped music

Erin McGroarty/ Sun Star Reporter
April 16, 2013

A combination of hundreds of high school students, drum circles, a famous jazz quartet and the trumpet line from Macklemore’s hit single “Thrift Shop,” can only be found on the UAF campus during a certain part of the year.

These four factors were all part of the 25th annual University of Alaska Fairbanks Jazz Festival, held on Thursday April 11, Friday April 12 and Saturday morning April 13 in the David Concert Hall and the surrounding music classrooms. Students could also be found practicing and jamming in the Wood Center throughout the three days.

Over 500 students and teachers from high schools around the state gathered on campus during this year’s annual jazz festival to perform, jam and also swap friendly tips, competitive glances and musical camaraderie with each other. According to festival director James Bicigo, this festival was originally founded by a former UAF professor John Harbaugh. Harbaugh began in the festival hoping to expand the jazz culture in Fairbanks during the late 80s and the future to come.

As part of this year’s festival, students not only performed, but also participated in workshops taught by this year’s guest artists and the Native Jazz Quartet members. The quartet visited the jazz festival in Fairbanks as part of their Pacific Northwest tour. Formed in 2010, the group is made up of drummer Edward Littlefield, originally from Sitka, bassist Christian Fabian, pianist Reuel Lubag, and Jason Marsalis on vibraphone. This group is a melting pot of cultures with Littlefield from Alaska, Fabian from Europe, Lubag from the Philipines and Marsalis from New Orleans.

Workshops included the festivals guests as well as the members of the Native Jazz Quartet. The other guests included well known jazz vocalist and arranger Darmon Meader teaching vocal technique , nationally renowned jazz musician Diego Rivera teaching saxophone, Musician 1st class Navy trombonist Jennifer Krupa teaching trombone, New York City trumpeter and composer Kelly Rossum teaching trumpet, nationally renowned cellist and musical arranger Nathaniel Smith on cello and festival founder John Harbaugh teaching trumpet.

Along with the workshops, there were several concerts over the weekend. This included the Native Jazz Quartet’s performance in the UAF Jazz Concert on Thursday afternoon and the Northern Lights String Orchestra and UAF Jazz band on Thursday evening. Students involved in the festival performed throughout Friday afternoon between 1 and 4 p.m. and the Fairbanks Community Band performed along with the guest artists on Friday evening. While the workshops were for student musicians only, the concerts were free and open to the public. The festival attracted a large crowd of UAF students and Fairbanks community jazz lovers alike.

Saturday’s performances also included the FLOT Showcase Singers, Honor Choir, Honor Middle School Jazz Band, Honor High School Jazz Band and the Directors’ Big Band, adding a vocal aspect to the brass and electric music that dominated the festival.

While all of the festival’s performances were full of talent and enthusiasm, Thursday evening’s guest artist solo brought the highest turn out of all of the concerts and based on the audience’s applause, was clearly a high light. Native Jazz Quartet combines musical roots and techniques from around the world, forming a unique and well rounded sound. The group not only includes hints of classically energetic big band jazz, but also aspects of world music, completing the ensembles repertoire in a culturally inclusive way that other jazz groups lack.

The weekend as a whole brought a lot of attention from, both out of town and within the Fairbanks community, towards the musical youth of Alaska. Students were able to enjoy learning from experienced professional, and an array of different types of jazz was enjoyed by all, setting a high standard for years to come.

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