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Performances will take place at Athens Uncorked during the 2019 Athens Jazz Festival. (Provided via Matthew James)

Athens Jazz Festival to showcase a musical message

You like jazz? The annual Athens Jazz Festival is wrapping up its events with weekend performances to tie all of the week’s festivities together. 

The purpose of the week is to celebrate the jazz genre with performances from various combos, Ohio University groups and professional musicians. 

Matthew James, a professor of saxophone and jazz studies, is one of the main organizers of the festival and loves how jazz music can provide excitement and entertainment for every person.

“There’s something for everyone with jazz,” James said. “Jazz is the type of music that includes many different styles within, so whatever type of jazz you like you can find it at this festival.”

Each day, the festival brings new and captivating performances at various locations throughout Athens. The week began on Monday with a webcast presentation of a jazz concert at Lincoln Center, shown at the Athens Public Library and also featured a performance from Coolville Hot Club at Casa Nueva. 

Tuesday, ARTS/West hosted a jazz instrument workshop, and Tony’s Tavern held a performance by Word of Mouth Jazz, a local jazz group that performs once a week. Wednesday, the Meyer/Eddy Jazz Duo performed at Athens Uncorked, and Thursday the OU School of Music showed a video presentation with saxophonist Wayne Shorter and Friends. 

The big performances happen on the weekend, starting Friday with the University of North Texas One O’Clock Lab Band and the Columbus Youth Jazz Orchestra. The One O’Clock Lab Band is an internationally acclaimed and Grammy-nominated jazz group that travels the U.S. performing their music. The Columbus Youth Jazz Orchestra will open for the group, and consists of premier players from grades nine through 12 from around central Ohio. 

Saturday brings the High School Jazz Festival, with performances and clinics from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. In addition, saxophonist, composer and arranger Mike Tomaro will teach a masterclass that is open to the public. Finally, the OU Jazz Ensemble I, directed by James, will perform with Tomaro and the OU Jazz Percussion Ensemble. 

The last day of the festival is Sunday, which will conclude with a performance from the OU Jazz Faculty and Tomaro, in addition to the OU Jazz Ensemble II, and one last performance at Athens Uncorked featuring an OU student combo performance and jam session. 

James has been teaching at OU for more than 20 years and has watched the festival grow and change throughout the years. He loves seeing the performers who come to not only entertain people in Athens, but also to teach the jazz students at OU. 

“The best part is just knowing that our students have the opportunity to interact with major guest artists because you really see their eyes light up, and they get so excited about their own performance and possible future of performing in the industry of music,” James said. 

Ryan Kerwin, a senior studying music with an emphasis on jazz, is performing in several of the featured combos and thinks the jazz festival is important for OU and Athens. 

“The jazz fest is a way of broadcasting our musical message and getting the community involved with what we do all day in the College of Fine Arts at OU,” Kerwin said. “I think it’s really important we have that communication between the university and its surrounding area, especially when it can be cultural communication.”

James also thinks the most important part of the festival is the merging of the Athens area and OU. 

“It’s an exciting collaboration between the community and the university,” James said. “We don’t get to do this often, but any time we get to embrace local musicians and get them to interact with students and vice versa is a great thing. There’s a lot of talent in Athens between the student side and the community, and the more we can feed off of each other, the better.” 


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