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Jazz: Southeast to salute style's history with weekend-long festival
More than 500 area junior, middle and high school students will gather in Cape Girardeau this weekend to join Southeast Missouri State University's Department of Music in the 15th annual Clark Terry/Phi Mu Alpha Jazz Festival.
The festival kicked off Thursday with the music department's second concert of the 2013 Jazz Series, featuring the Jazz Sultans -- a university faculty jazz combo -- and guest performer, jazz pianist Reggie Thomas.
Thomas, a professor of jazz at Michigan State University, has performed with jazz groups internationally and regularly performs at collegiate jazz festivals across the country.
Robert Conger, director of jazz studies at Southeast, said the three-day festival is a combination of celebration and education.
"We do this festival to give back to high school directors," Conger said. "It's also a unique opportunity for the students in our department, who will mostly go on to direct and teach music."
Southeast students will have the opportunity to work directly with participating high school jazz ensembles in a "mini-clinic," where the younger students have the opportunity to play or simply ask questions.
"The bands come to the festival really for educational purposes," Conger said. "We chose this format rather than a contest with winners or losers so the students get more out of it."
Students also will speak with Thomas, a former professor of music at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, who is known regionally for his performance and instructive skills. Conger said this was a key decision in choosing Thomas as the festival's guest artist.
"I've seen him in action at previous festivals," Conger said. "And he's always really great with students."
Southeast student Trevor Smith has composed an original piece that will be premiered at the festival. Titled "Whiteout," the ballad will be performed by the university's own Studio Jazz Band tonight at the festival's gala concert.
Smith said most professors "wouldn't take the risk" of performing a student piece at such a large-scale event, and feels incredibly grateful for the rare opportunity.
"For a composer, getting to hear how your chords and melodies work out live is irreplaceable," Smith said. "It's also good for the group to work with new composers and different pieces, as well."
The festival will begin at 8:25 a.m. today at the Southeast's River Campus in the Donald C. Bedell Performance Hall. The gala concert will be at 7:30 p.m.
The festival will conclude Saturday with high school performances from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., also in Bedell.
Conger said he expects to see strong support at this year's festival and hopes to see Cape Girardeau eventually become a "jazz community."
"Jazz started in New Orleans and made its way up the Mississippi," Conger said. "Cape, being a river city, has a history of jazz, and I think it's important to keep that alive."
For more information or to order tickets, call 651-2265 or visit rivercampusevents.com.
33 N. Main St., Cape Girardeau, MO
518 S. Fountain S., Cape Girardeau, MO