Every year around this time, the vibes down in Moscow get good -- really good. For four days each February, the small college town undergoes a transformation, one that attracts the attention of jazz fans the world over. I'm speaking of the University of Idaho's Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, of course. Of all the festivals out there dedicated to this uniquely American musical form, Hampton's namesake has the distinction of being the only one of its kind where world class professional performers have the opportunity to sit down with music students and directly share their experience and knowledge. That's the way it's always been. That's the way it should be. Catch it at the UI campus on Feb.19-22.
The Festival's 2003 installment commences on somewhat of a somber note as everyone involved pauses to consider the passing of the man who embodied the very spirit of the festival. Lionel Hampton died last August, bringing to a close an illustrious chapter in the history of both jazz performance and education. Hampton had been a major figure in jazz since the mid-1930s. He began his career as a drummer but switched to the vibraphone at the suggestion of Louis Armstrong, with whom he performed and recorded. In 1936, he was officially "discovered" by Benny Goodman and would go on to play with many of the top names, either as a sideman with Goodman, Gene Krupa and Teddy Wilson or as leader (beginning in 1940) of his own big band. His talent, unbridled enthusiasm and impeccable showmanship made Hampton a much-loved and widely recognized giant of the genre. His appearance at last year's festival was his final performance anywhere.
Hampton is also acclaimed for his role as one of the most dedicated of jazz educators. He began working with University of Idaho in the early 1980s (his New York Big Band made its first appearance at the festival in 1984). In 1985, the University named its jazz festival -- and later, its music school -- after him. This unique 20-year relationship between artist and educational institution will culminate in the university's $60 million Lionel Hampton Center (slated for completion in 2006), which will eventually house the School of Music and UI's International Jazz Collection and will preserve both Hampton's legacy and the heritage of jazz.
The festival itself (now in its 36th year) can be distilled into three main categories: clinics, competitions and concerts. Clinics are where the one-to-one instruction happens, where guest artists are able to interact informally with students and bestow upon them knowledge through techniques that may include lecturing, performance, demonstration and Q & amp;A sessions. Whatever the method, these clinics are much more that mere learning sessions. They also serve to inspire.
If clinics are the learning portion of the instructional process, the competitions -- spanning the entire four days and involving nearly 14,000 students from all over North America and the world -- represent the doing. Elementary, middle, high school and college students compete at more than 18 sites on the UI campus and in Moscow. Winning ensembles perform at the late-afternoon concerts on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday where judges pick an overall winner. Vocal and instrumental soloist winners take the stage to perform at the evening concerts.
Ah yes, the evening concerts. Though instruction is, of course, the primary focus of the festival, those of you reading this are probably far more interested in the nightly performance portion of the festivities, right? Well, this year's lineup features, among many others, such stellar talent as vocalist Lou Rawls, bassist John Clayton, pianist Hank Jones, drummer Jeff Hamilton and guitarists Bucky and John Pizzarelli. But the centerpiece of the festival is Saturday night's Giants of Jazz concert tribute to Lionel Hampton, featuring all of the above talent (and more) joining Hampton's New York Big Band for a celebration of an extraordinary life well lived.
Though no longer with us in a corporeal sense, Hampton, through his involvement with the festival and his tireless patronage of the art form known as jazz, has achieved a level of immortality few ever have the opportunity to realize. His musical contributions and commitment to jazz education have always been and remain affirmations of life.
Be Mine -- Hate Valentine's Day? I don't blame you. There are more than a few good reasons to suspect that this midwinter holiday really is just another ruse trumped up by the greeting card industry designed to get us all to spend more of our hard-earned money on worse-than-worthless crap. And if you're not currently in love with or stalking someone, what's the point of recognizing it at all? Not that you have a choice, mind you. Not with those few insufferably cheery and emotionally fulfilled among us mucking up the works of another perfectly dreary day with their gooey sentiments, pink cookies and candy hearts. Bleh.
Thank Zeus the rest of us have anti-Valentine's outlets like the Love is Dead show at Sol & eacute; to tide us over until Presidents' Day. Designed with your cynicism in mind, the all-ages club is hosting an eight-local-band blowout Saturday night, featuring the love-skewering talents of Room to Spare, Coldminded, Rebecca's Tragedy, HiJacked Royalty, Against all Odds, Glorymoor, the Agreement and Malfunction.
The Agreement is well acquainted with broken hearts, disappointment and shattered expectations. Composed of 17-year-olds Cody Davis (guitar), Will Brasch (guitar), Jeff Schell (drums) and 19-year-old Shaina Bloom (bass), the emo band has suffered more than a few mishaps and lineup changes in the four years since founders Schell and Brasch first got the notion in their heads that playing rock together would be a pretty cool way to slay time.
Together, they co-founded a group called Bleeding Soul while still attending Shadle Park High School. That band eventually transmuted into Worst Case Scenario with the addition of Davis and Bloom. But as fate would have it, another band out there in the teenage wasteland had chosen the very same name -- thus the rechristening of the quartet, the Agreement. Cruel fate also saw to it that all the group's equipment would be stolen and that they would constantly be dogged by the lack of a stable practice space -- all this in addition to the usual inter-band problems including but not limited to those darned "artistic differences."
"Right now we're practicing in my friend's garage," reports Davis. "It's a great place 'cause we've got pretty much everything we need from a PA to guitars and mike stands. But this won't be our official place. We hope to settle that by next year. Maybe a band house."
The Agreement is currently gearing up for a trip into the studio and is also in the process of organizing "mini-tours" around the Inland Northwest.
"Our main goal is to get our sound out to as many people as we can," says Davis.
As the group works together to improve their fortunes, it's obvious the Agreement agree on more than just a band name. And despite the sardonic festival of which they are a part, Davis asserts that the band has no problem with love. In fact, they love it.
"Love is 95 percent of what makes music," he states emphatically. "Love is all that holds this world together. I think love is everywhere you go. You can't avoid it."
Carissa's Wierd and The Prom -- There's plenty weird about Carissa's Wierd (aside from the way they spell "weird"), especially if you've been raised on nothing but a steady diet of commercial radio and MTV. For the rest of you, the fact that music this gentle and mood-invoking could hook up with an audience inside the white noise singles club of what passes for modern indie rock might just be reason enough for a little personal reverie -- and a celebration of the peculiar. Carissa's Wierd joins fellow Seattle band the Prom at the B-Side this Sunday night.
The band's third album in just as many years, Songs About Leaving (Sad Robot), is slow and hushed in its echo-drenched melancholia and bittersweet introspection. Layered and languid male-fem vocals emerge, trembling from deep atmospherics actualized with little more than strummed acoustic and electric guitar, violin and tinkling piano. Its unassuming charms require a receptive ear and take their sweet time burrowing under your skin. But once implanted, they pay welcome dividends, casting rainy-day bedroom spells that become more potent with repeated listening sessions.