From Ella To Beyonce: Jazz Fest returns, connects past to future

From Ella To Beyonce: Jazz Fest returns, connects past to future

Year one: Found a new festival. Year two: Take everything completely virtual, expand teaching and performing musicians to international voices. Year three: Switch to a hybrid of in-person and virtual offerings — and add a third day to the schedule.

Vocalist Carmen Bruner and organist Jeremy Thomas are also artists-in-residence for the festival.

The Fayetteville Jazz Festival is ever-changing!

“I think that probably the biggest takeaway that I got, especially from the first year, and then from last year, was the importance of connecting,” muses Chris Teal, the festival director.

Facilitating relationships between student musicians at all levels and seasoned professionals helps to break down the barrier of perceived unrelatability, Teal explains. And that has been one of the festival’s central pillars since its inception.

“And also, as a performing jazz musician myself, it’s always really fun to kind of put myself back in that headspace of, ‘Oh, man, I remember being where you are as high school students or college students, and hearing this music for the first time,’” he goes on.

Vocalist Carmen Bruner and organist Jeremy Thomas are also artists-in-residence for the festival.

Sometimes sharing some of his own first experiences with jazz, as well as exploring the history of the genre, is a bit of a guilty pleasure, Teal admits.

“Understanding that history and acknowledging that, but also seeing this is something that is so diverse, and everybody can learn about it, everybody can do it” are among the points he finds it important to pass on, Teal shares. “It’s going in and connecting all of these generations, and ideally, making relationships between students of all ages and those performers. Getting these connections happening is really fun to spark in a virtual setting, but especially getting back to doing it in a live, in-person setting.”

“It’s incredibly important for students in the arts to see people out there doing what they aspire to do,” agrees Alexa Tarantino. Tarantino is a New York-based saxophonist who has performed with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Cecile McLorin Salvant Quintet, among other jazz titans. She is one of the artists-in-residence for the third annual festival.

For saxophonist Alexa Tarantino, it was the spirit of jazz that brought her to the genre. (Courtesy Photo)

“I was inspired to pick up the saxophone because I saw a young woman playing it,” she continues. “Representation matters, and that’s part of why I love traveling and meeting young students (particularly female-identifying students) around the world — I want them to know that they can do this, too.”

Tarantino will contribute to both the educational and performance sides of the festival as she leads workshops for students and shares some of her new music.

That educational component of the Fayetteville Jazz Festival will also be bolstered this year by a new partnership with the Music Moves organization. The Arkansas nonprofit promotes the extraordinary contribution of African-Americans to music of all genres and is committed to educating and engaging the community by making high-quality performances of Black music and educational materials accessible to everyone.

Rodney Block

“I think it’s a great partnership; I think this idea works,” asserts Rodney Block, Arkansas trumpet player and another festival artist-in-residence. Block has done some work with the nonprofit organization and its co-founder Anthony Ball. Block and Ball will perform together during the Friday night festival performance, as well as participate in other panels and performances throughout the festival.

“The overall picture is to educate and enhance and bring this cultural experience to Northwest Arkansas,” Block continues about the partnership, noting the importance of specifically introducing young people to the history of one of the “only truly American art forms.”

“Kids love hip hop music, they love popular music; well, all of that stuff wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have jazz as an art form,” he poses. “Before there was a Beyonce and Jay Z, you had a Miles and an Ella. It was the popular music, and people would come from all over just to hear Ella sing or hear Miles play.

“And that appreciation is not going to grow unless there’s more events like the Fayetteville Jazz Festival that draw in students, and get them to say, ‘Hey, this is a neat art form, let me learn more about this.’”

“The great thing about jazz, I think it allows you to play whatever it is you’re feeling, whatever it is you want to play,” muses Rodney Block, one of the artists-in-residence for the third annual Fayetteville Jazz Festival. (Courtesy Photo)

Bringing live music back outside reintroduces more opportunities to invite the general public into the festival atmosphere. Prairie Street Live provides the perfect space for outdoor gathering and will host free performances each of the three nights of the festival. While the workshops will be for students, the rest of the performances and panels hosted at the Fayetteville Public Library will be live streamed as well as accessible after the festival.

“Making a lot of the material accessible to, hopefully, a wide variety of audiences locally, nationally and internationally, that was real big win. [So we’re] keeping some of that virtual component,” Teal says. “But there’s just something that you can’t replicate in having live performances, live workshops. So with an eye on what was going to be safe and possible, that was something that we really wanted to prioritize bringing back to some degree this year.”

“For all students, whether they come from musical or non-musical backgrounds, urban or suburban areas, public or arts schools, it’s important to experience the music live and in-person,” Tarantino concurs. “That energy is something you can’t replicate in an app or on Zoom.”


Fayetteville Jazz Festival

WHEN — April 23-25; times, events vary

WHERE — Various locations in Northwest Arkansas

COST — Events open to the public are free, but reservations are required to maintain social distancing standards


FYI — Regional student jazz bands are invited to participate in performance clinics through the festival. The Institute for Creative Music nonprofit will award several scholarships to its 2021 summer music camp to high-performing students who participate in the school clinics.

Categories: Music