Jazz Adjusts

Jazz Adjusts

Festival finds a way forward


“We’re making use of the fact that everybody is all of the sudden having to be an expert on recording concerts and workshops in their living room, and putting that out and premiering some videos of that to the public for free.”

Chris Teal is the jazz director at the University of Arkansas Community Music School, as well as the director and founder of the nonprofit Institute for Creative Music. Following the success of last year’s inaugural Fayetteville Jazz Festival, Teal was excited to grow the festival in its second year — before a pandemic went and got everything canceled.

(Courtesy Photo/Pin Lim-Forest Photography)

Making use of his contacts in the jazz community across the country, Teal says organizers decided to move everything to a virtual setting rather than giving up on the festival completely.

“As jazz musicians who spend a lot of our time freelancing — whether it’s performing or teaching — the new reality is that a lot of the work that is going on is being noticed through like a two-minute Instagram TV video or something like that,” Teal notes of technology already used regularly by musicians.

“I think all of these performers are really open to answering questions and engaging,” he goes on. “So even though we don’t have the opportunity to have that kind of spontaneous back-and-forth that happens at an in-person workshop, we’re really trying to facilitate that through the media and connect the fans and the other musicians with these performers, and create some relationships that way.”

The types of relationships formed through workshops and networking at an event like a music festival can often forge invaluable connections that lead to future teachers or collaborators, Teal explains.

Where last year’s festival included a day of workshops for student and other jazz ensembles, the second annual Fayetteville Jazz Festival will focus on performances and master classes from the the artists-in-residence. It will also be free and open to anyone via streaming on the Institute for Creative Music’s YouTube channel.

(Courtesy Photo/Meagan Stone)

“I think sometimes, at least based off my experience performing at or adjudicating jazz festivals in the past, sometimes it’s exclusively geared toward high school kids or college kids,” Teal shares. “And I think there are a lot of great opportunities for everybody to get the chance to enjoy the music together, get to play together and connect the generations a little bit more.”

“I’m super happy that folks like Chris Teal and the Jazz Festival are trying to push forward and share as much music as possible given the current situation,” participating musician Matthew Golombisky adds. “It takes a certain amount of improvisation to change things up and still get this music and these experiences in front of as many people as possible even though we’re all shut in. Everyone who is adapting quickly and continuing to share their craft(s), I really support (and follow).”


Fayetteville Jazz Festival

WHEN — April 24-25

COST — Free

INFO — fayettevillejazzfestval.com


Meet The Artists

• Nick Finzer (Texas)

– Trombonist, composer, arranger, producer, educator

• Matthew Golombisky (Argentina)

– Acoustic and electric bassist, composer, improviser, conductor, educator

• Lauren Lee (New York City)

– Vocalist, pianist, composer, educator

• Alisha Pattillo (Prairie Grove)

– Saxophonist, international performer, arranger, bandleader, educator

• Garrett Schmidt (Illinois)

– Trumpeter, arranger, educator

• Doug Stone (Louisiana)

– Saxophonist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator

Get to know a few of the artists-in-residence below:

Q. What brought you to jazz? Do you remember hearing or playing a specific piece that sparked your attraction to the field?

(Courtesy Photo/Ricardo Nelson)

Finzer: The reason that I specifically started playing jazz was because I was studying classical music — actually classical voice. Then I got into a big band that was playing the music of Duke Ellington, and that year we were finalists in the Essentially Ellington Competition at Jazz at Lincoln Center and we went down to New York City and played a bunch of Duke Ellington music. That experience as a whole, that whole year of being in that band and checking out Duke’s music and having the opportunity to go to New York is what kind of sparked the idea that maybe I wanted to be a jazz musician and study jazz really hard core. Before that, I was interested in trombone and classical music, but was never really as into jazz as deeply as after that experience.

I don’t know if it was once piece, but it was definitely that composer, Duke Ellington, and all of his music.

Golombisky: I would say that some of most compelling aspects of jazz are: 1) The need to improvise and to always need to create. It’s never boring or without adventure in this sense. 2) The ability to communicate with others on a level that’s not descriptive and obvious as, say, with words or something visual. There are so many options to interact with other musicians and then, when you find folks that you can really “gel with,” the deepness of communication can be intensely beautiful and meaningful. 3) Also, I love that it’s a genre that’s forever moving forward; the forward motion keeps us on our toes and the creative juices flowing and learning.

Lee: When I was studying (classical) voice in high school, I got disgruntled with it because my voice was changing. My teacher gave me a CD called “Ella Fitzgerald: Best of the Songbooks,” and I took it home and basically memorized it. I grew up in a very rural area in southern Illinois and had had no exposure to jazz before that.

Pattillo: The saxophone is what brought me to jazz. I fell in love with the sound and look of the horn at a very young age. Once I was old enough to start playing in school bands, I gravitated toward jazz ensembles and repertoire. The attraction just grew from there — saxophone was my first love — the attraction to jazz was a result of that.

Fayetteville Jazz Festival founder Chris Teal (on drums) performs at last year’s inaugural festival during an event hosted by the Fayetteville Public Library. The second annual festival will be completely virtual and will host artists-in-residence alongside local jazz heavy-hitters Teal, Matt Nelson (piano) and Jake Hertzog (guitar).
(Courtesy Photo/Tracy Riley)

Schmidt: I was involved with all things band related as a young kid. My older brothers were playing music in the basement and I wanted to be a part of that. One of my brothers gave me Freddie Hubbard’s album, “Topsy.” I loved that record! Once I got to college, I enjoyed jazz band, combo and the people in those groups so much that I added jazz studies as a major.

Stone: My dad loved Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich and lots of other jazz. So, even before I began playing saxophone, I knew and loved jazz. I even brought a cassette tape of Maynard Ferguson’s “Primal Scream” for show-and-tell in first grade. My dad took me to a Maynard Ferguson concert in Kewanee, Ill. when I was in third grade. Although Maynard was impressive as always, I enjoyed watching and listening to the saxophone players, and on the way home from the concert I told my dad I would like to try the saxophone. His barber also happened to be a very active and talented saxophone player in Peoria, Ill., my hometown, and I started lessons within a couple months. That first teacher, Dave Parkinson, taught me the chromatic scale, and then we started improvising with Jamey Aebersold play-along recordings! I have played jazz since the beginning.

Q. How are you coping with social distancing / working from home? What tips do you have for fellow musicians (and people in general) to keep spirits up and artistic passion satisfied during these crazy times?

Finzer: Being a musician, you work from home all the time with the idea of being a practicer and working on your music, and having to basically self-isolate to do so. So, that process has kind of set us as musicians up to be able to transition relatively smoothly into this self-isolating / work from home situation.

My tips for people are to plan out what you’re going to do and try to stick to your plan. I know that sounds like a very simple step, but just having a very clear checklist of expectations that you want to get done in a day so that you can make measurable progress toward your goals. Try to think about some things that you wouldn’t normally have time to do and make the time to do them. And also just being OK with taking some time and knowing that you don’t have to be super productive every single moment of the day.

Golombisky: I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m someone that has a lot of new ideas (or rather, older ideas that never came to fruition). Back to the busy, busy brain. I’m hoping that this will be a time to address some of them. For example, I’ve had a chamber orchestra tone-poem of mine that premiered in Innsbruck back in 2006 just waiting to make it to a more public light, but more immediate commitments always got in the way. Yesterday, I was able to get it out. I’ve also, very slowly, been working on a book of “Etudes for Improvisation”; I’m looking forward to spending some time with that.

I would advise folks to do what a lot of folks are already doing: getting onto social media and live streaming performances. It’s really nice to see all these people playing. And the pop-up, solo concerts from the living room are swell! We’re still connected.

Lee: This isn’t the first time I’ve been isolated (see above about rural upbringing. I’m an only child). The internet helps so I’m able to stay connected to people I love. The other thing that has really helped me is this gift of time to work on things I’ve always wanted to work on but never had time for. I’m learning tons of new music and have even picked up a couple new instruments because I always said I wanted to but didn’t have time. I think making your wants as much a priority as you can is helpful for creative people in general. This is (hopefully) a once in a lifetime opportunity and while the situation is scary and horrible, you can still make the most of it.

Pattillo: Social distancing has been a struggle for everyone; as a musician we are all dealing with our work schedules through June being entirely wiped clean, and we all could easily see it extend further. I had some really neat performances booked in 2020, so it’s definitely sad to see the majority of them canceled, though some dates were rescheduled to later in the year. I miss the energy that goes with gigging — the interaction, the playing, the hang, the joy. But I’m taking advantage of our spring weather as best I can and getting plenty of fresh air.

As far as tips? Get in a practice routine. Keep your chops up. Try to create an environment that challenges you, and that keeps you inspired and pushing. A routine in general to keep your mind busy. Exercise. Practice outdoors on a beautiful day. Collaborate on projects with musicians via file sharing. Practice performing an entire gig’s worth of material. Don’t eat too much ice cream — but don’t not eat any.

Schmidt: So far, social distancing hasn’t been terrible… but I do miss face-to-face teaching. I have my students record videos of themselves practicing certain things, then we video chat about what to work on for next week. It is not ideal, but it is the hand we’ve been given.

Since I’m stuck at home, I’ve had a ton of time to catch up with friends and fellow musicians. That has certainly kept my spirits up. If you know any freelance artists, check in and see how they are doing. If you don’t, use this time to reach out to your friends and family.

My advice for musicians is to take this time to work on stuff that they really enjoy and relate to. It doesn’t matter if it is country, heavy metal or film scores. Just take care of yourself and your interests during this time! And if you have some, try to finish your school work, too.

Stone: I have four young boys, so most of my days have been spent working with them and doing the necessary housework and chores. It has been amazing to spend such quality time with my family! We are really thriving mentally and emotionally as a result of this unforeseen break. I have some other projects that I wish I had time to work on, but with the responsibilities I have right now, I do not have a moment to spare in the day. So working from home has actually led to a busier schedule than normal.

Most of the people with whom I associate have plenty of work to do, from their professional lives to their family lives and many other responsibilities. I think taking care of your family, friends and neighbors should be a focus during this time. I also find it very helpful to count my blessings each day.

Q. Can you speak to the significance of events like this for young musicians — the opportunity to network with and learn from professional musicians from outside their own community?

Finzer: The process of mentoring and leading younger musicians into this music is something that’s been essential to the growth of the music; it’s been essential to the way that the music is taught and learned — one generation passing it down to the next. There are books and there are plenty of materials and college programs where you can study the music, but you ultimately need to find a mentor or mentors and really find out what the music’s about, really find out how to play it, what it means to be a jazz musician, the cultural aspects, the community aspects. So getting as many young people as we can connected to this music, which is America’s musical art form, I think is super important.

(Courtesy Photo/Matthew Golombisky)

Golombisky: Sharing is always a important for discovery. And it’s inspiring. And what’s wrong with inspiring young folks, if you can? I was inspired so many times, it’s nice to pay it forward.

Lee: Since the genre is constantly evolving, it is important for younger and student musicians to see the different possibilities within the genre, both sonically and professionally. I grew up in a rural area and then moved to a small city to study jazz in college. In this small city, the definition of a jazz musician was pretty narrow, and I didn’t know where I’d fit in. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me or sounded like they were into what I was into. I think when young musicians aren’t exposed to the different ways they can express themselves by people who maybe better represent them, they sometimes don’t continue on. It’s important for the genre in general to keep and honor the traditions, but also to keep innovating.

Pattillo: Creating an environment that inspires and challenges students is what best facilitates growth in a musician. So I think events like these are crucial and can leave a lasting impression on aspiring jazz musicians. I remember attending similar events in awe as a teenager, and attending such performances and workshops kept me wanting to pursue a music career. For young students to be able to get technical feedback, inspiration, assessment, motivation, and be a part of a musical ensemble is a beautiful thing. Not all will grow to become professional musicians but even if we just reach one student and make an everlasting impression, it makes it worth it.

Schmidt: These types of events are unbelievably important to a student’s growth as a musician. I had the opportunity to meet some top tier players through festivals like these (Wayne Bergeron, Bobby Shew and Bob Mintzer to name a few). To get a chance to hear these people play and work with them can be a truly inspirational experience for a young musician. It is especially important in our genre for people to hear professionals perform. That is how we get more people interested and involved with this music!

Stone: Jazz education is alive and well in America and throughout the world and has been for decades. Many times, schools are where young people are first exposed to jazz. Currently, the majority of college jazz majors cite high school jazz band experiences as the impetus for their chosen career path. If you enter a high school band room and ask if there is anyone who listens to music they would consider jazz, I guarantee you would get multiple hands in the air. It is a wonderful time to be a jazz musician and student of jazz.

There are great jazz musicians in every city I have ever lived in or visited. It is quite common for guests from other regions to be brought in as clinicians at festivals. Outside clinicians can bring fresh ears to the music. Networking is also a huge part of a career in music. Although there are thousands and thousands of jazz musicians around the world, the community sometimes feels very small as connections are made.

(Courtesy Photo/Gwendolyn Mercer)



One Last Thing

Trombonist Nick Finzer says it’s an interesting time to be a jazz musician:

“The general attention span of people is shorter, yet jazz is a music that needs to be experienced in real time and as it evolves over time. And a lot of the music is based on that — you start somewhere and it ends up somewhere else, and if you don’t take that journey with the audience, you can’t just arrive at the climactic moment and have it be as effective as if you took that whole journey.”

Vocalist and pianist Lauren Lee considers where jazz is heading:

“Especially in these weird times of social distancing and everything being online, it wouldn’t surprise me to see more solo work coming out of this, which is rare in jazz on instruments other than piano and guitar. I think jazz right now is heading toward the innovative and the brave and the different, simply because it has to.”

Saxophonist Alisha Pattillo lauds NWA’s jazz foundation:

“There are many folk in this area that have been a major driving force at growing jazz in this region. Robert Ginsburg has been promoting jazz in this region for over 40 years through an impressive array of concerts, festivals, radio, youth ensembles and the Northwest Arkansas Jazz Society. The University of Arkansas has incredible jazz educators. … this program has potential to attract talent from all over the country, in addition to nurturing the ever growing talent that’s already in this area. The scene is very much alive and well received by the audiences in Northwest Arkansas; I’m confident it will continue to grow and remain part of the culture.”

Saxophonist Doug Stone points to education as the future of the genre:

“Most young jazz musicians have the opportunity to study in universities around the world. The college years are a time to deeply investigate the jazz tradition and hone one’s individual approach to improvising and composing. I enjoy hearing the work students do as they are in college, and then to watch them develop as musicians and band leaders as they move on to the professional world. This process has been the gold standard for many years, and will continue to be. There are so many wonderful teachers at universities around the world and students simply have to put the work in to become the best musician they can be!”

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