Jazz Fest brings unique genre to IC music scene

Iowa City is showcasing local, national, and international artists at the 28th-annual Jazz Fest. The festival will run July 5-7.


The Daily Iowan; Photos by James

The Danny McCaslin Group performs on the main stage for the 2017 Jazz Fest on Sunday, July 2nd, 2017. Jazz Fest has been hosted by Summer of the Arts since 2005. (James Year/Daily Iowan)

Brooklyn Draisey, Summer editor

Before I could ask Jazz Fest committee chair Don Thompson any questions about this year’s festival, he jumped in with a question of his own: “Are you a jazz fan?”

As the lead trumpet player in my high school’s jazz band my senior year, I could answer with a confident “yes.” He expressed his happiness at that, then we began.

Jazz Fest has brought local and touring jazz artists to the Iowa City stage since 1991, but it didn’t become an official part of the Iowa City Summer of the Arts schedule until 2005. Since then, the three-day music fair has changed locations, expanded to numerous stages, and begun to offer both free and ticketed events. 

Summer of the Arts Executive Director Lisa Barnes said the event has drawn 20,000-25,000 people throughout past years. This year, people will be able to see artists at the main stage and three side stages, visit 14 food vendors and an assortment of artist booths, and bundle off their kids for activities. Jerrett Purdy, who will play piano with his group the Jarrett Purdy Project on the College Stage on July 6, has played at Jazz Fest since he was a junior in high school. As an Iowa City native, Purdy has enjoyed a front-row seat to the changes Jazz Fest has experienced, and he said he’s happy with where it’s going.

“I really love seeing it grow, having played there so long it’s been a really great experience,” he said.

Thompson said he started attending Jazz Fest in 1993, and he wishes he didn’t miss the first two. He has been interested in the genre since he was in college, and while he said he’s a terrible musician, he can still appreciate the unique sound.

“I sit and listen, just completely mesmerized, for every performance, every tune played,” Thompson said. “I never take a break during Jazz Fest, I listen to it all.”

RELATED: People gain new experiences with art at Downtown Block Party 

Barnes said there will be eight performers on the Pentacrest main stage and nine performers on the side stages on Friday and Saturday, and five performers on the Pedestrian Mall on Sunday. There will also be one ticketed performance on Friday and two on Sunday, all at the Mill.

The Ped Mall performers will generally be local, she said, and the main stage will host local school bands as well as national and international artists. All of the Mill performers have traveled internationally.

“Having the opportunity to hear world-class performers gives [people] the chance to … experience something they might not usually experience and, hopefully, broaden their appreciation for different styles of music,” Barnes said.

Featuring a diverse set of artists is paramount to putting on a good show, Thompson said. As the music selection committee chair, he keeps a running list of artists he would want to have at the festival. The rest of the board also contributes ideas for performers, and together, they book the stages.

“We’re very conscious of the breadth of talent in jazz, and we want to be a representative festival rather than a festival that just reflects the tastes of one or two people,” he said.

One of this year’s groups, Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, will show off a new sound to the festival. Bunnett, a soprano saxophone and flute player from Canada, formed the group when she realized on a trip with her husband to Cuba that Cuban women didn’t have a real platform to perform their art. Melvis Santa, Celia Jiménez, Mary Paz, Dánae Olano, and Yissy García make up the ensemble along with Bunnett, and together, they mix Cuban and contemporary jazz.

The real difference between traditional Cuban and North American jazz is the rhythm; the Clave pattern is used in Cuban music, while North American jazz relies on the swing rhythm. However, Bunnett said, there have been many influences on each style that have brought them closer together.

Bunnett has played in Iowa City twice before, she said, but not in around 15 years. She noted how nice everyone was when she came and how exciting it is to see people so appreciative of the genre.

“We hope everybody comes out to see it, because we’re excited about being [in Iowa City],” Bunnett said.

Facebook Comments