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Jazz Ensemble I are one of the groups playing at the Athens Jazz festival. (Provided by Matthew James)

Annual Jazz Festival to feature guest bassist for the first time

The Ohio University School of Music will feature a renowned local bassist as its guest artist at the 2018 Athens Jazz Festival this weekend.

The festival will include concerts featuring OU jazz faculty, students and guest artists and a series of performances by local high school bands. Roger Hines, the featured guest bassist, will also give a masterclass.

The Jazz Festival originated years ago when a School of Music professor of jazz studies and trumpet brought a popular jazz artist to Athens each year and structured other events around them. It has evolved into a weekend-long celebration of jazz music and education of its beauty.

Matthew James, a professor of saxophone and jazz studies, has been in charge of the Jazz Festival for the last few years and has the task of recruiting guests artists. The artist to be featured at the 2018 festival is a Columbus native known for his work with Diane Schuur and Ray Charles.

Each year, James said he looks forward to personally playing with the visiting professionals.

“Playing with the professionals and making music as a band that’s never really functioned as a band before and just making it happen, there’s an energy there,” he said. “It’s fun to do.”

James said one of the main reasons he chose to dedicate his life to music was the contact he had with a college student studying music while he was in high school. He hopes the Jazz Festival can have a similar effect on the students in the visiting high school ensembles.

“If we can just get one person interested in music and maybe pursuing it as a professional someday, that would be amazing,” he said.

Sean Parsons, an assistant professor of jazz studies and music theory, has also contributed to the planning of the Jazz Festival. Similar to James, he sees the festival as a special opportunity for the jazz musicians in the School of Music to collaborate with guest artists in ways that may not always be possible.

“In Athens, we’re a little bit isolated, so we don’t always have access to a very broad body of musicians all the time,” he said. “For what we do as jazz musicians, sometimes it feels a little bit on an island.”

For Parsons, the most important part of the event is the education involved. High school students are able to do more than watch jazz musicians perform — they work with visiting professionals and School of Music faculty hands-on, receiving feedback and instruction from experts in the field.

“The educational component is really big,” Parsons said. “We could just do a concert, but it’s really linked to education.”

Ryan Kerwin, a junior studying music, plays the trumpet in two of the student groups that will perform during the festival. He has participated in the festival every year since he has been an OU student and enjoys the communal educational component of the weekend.

Although preparations for this year’s event have kept him busy, Kerwin said he is looking forward to performing and enjoys the spontaneous elements of jazz music.

“Most of it is improvised, so you don’t know what’s going to happen until it happens,” he said. “It’s always a fun environment, just because it’s the most casual and honest music that you can make.”


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