Bill Evans Jazz Festival offers great jazz for a jazz great
Contact: Christina Chapple
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(1) GREAT JAZZ FOR JAZZ GREAT – For the eighth year, Southeastern Louisiana University will honor one of its most famous graduates, legendary jazz pianist Bill Evans, a 1950 graduate, with the Bill Evans Jazz Festival. Concerts are scheduled April 20, 23 and 24 and include the Bill Evans Festival Jazz Trio – pianist Ellis Marsallis, bass player and composer Chuck Israels, and drummer Troy Davis at the Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts.
(2) JAZZ ENSEMBLE II AT BILL EVANS FEST -- Jazz bassist and composer Chuck Israels has written a special arrangement of “Love is Here to Stay” for the Southeastern Louisiana University Jazz Ensemble II’s Bill Evans Jazz Festival Concert April 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pottle Music Building Auditorium. Ensemble members are, from left, front row, Blake Bogan, Bryan Reed, Suzanne Haslauer, Jorge Franco, Joseph Jones; second row, George Bosnea, Corey Reeves, Marcy Mayeaux, Richard Schwartz; third row, Maxwell McClintock, Jordan Hill, Scott Campbell, Kaleb Boudreaux, Judy Bardwell; fourth row, Robert Nicholson, Benjamin Livingston, Joshua Olsen, Josh Pardue, Antonio Sasso, Aaron Turnipseed.
HAMMOND – Southeastern Louisiana University is devoting three days and four concerts to Bill Evans, the late great jazz pianist who is one of the university’s most famous alumni.
The eighth annual Bill Evans Jazz Festival will bring together world-renowned jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis and string bassist Chuck Israels -- joined by local jazz percussionist Troy Davis and billing themselves as “the Bill Evans Festival Trio” -- for an April 23 performance at the Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts.
The festival will also feature a spirited jazz jam by Southeastern alumni musicians on April 20 and performances by two Southeastern ensembles – the Jazz Combos featuring Israels, and Jazz Ensemble II - on April 24.
The festival honors the seven-time Grammy Award winner who is considered the most influential jazz pianist of his generation. Throughout his life, Evans, a 1950 Southeastern graduate, fondly remembered his college years, calling his time at Southeastern the happiest period of his life. Southeastern named him its first “Alumnus of the Year” in 1969. Evans returned to his alma mater shortly before his death in 1980 for a concert captured on the CD “Homecoming,” released by Milestone Records.
The Bill Evans Festival Trio will perform at 7:30 p.m. at Southeastern’s downtown Hammond theater. Tickets, available at columbiatheatre.org and at the theater’s box office (220 E. Thomas St., 985-543-4371), are $27, Orchestra 1 and Loge; $23, Orchestra 2 and Balcony 1; and $21, Balcony 2. The event is free to Southeastern students with their university I.D.
Southeastern saxophone instructor and festival director Richard Schwartz said this year’s festival has several interesting tie-ins concerning its guest artist Israels.
Israels was part of the Bill Evans Trio from 1961 through 1966. Former director of the National Jazz Ensemble and now head of jazz studies at Western Washington University, Israels also directed the jazz band at Temple University when Schwartz was a student there.
“He made a really strong impression on me since he had recorded and toured with Bill Evans,” Schwartz said. “So, 19 years later, I contacted him about performing for the Bill Evans Festival.
“You can see videos on YouTube of Chuck and Evans playing together,” Schwartz added. “Chuck must have been all of 25 years old.”
Israels said he is looking forward to visiting the college “home” of Evans, who he remembers as an introverted man who communicated through his music.
“He was a profoundly intelligent and literate guy with whom I didn’t have many conversations. All of that good conversation came out in his music,” Isarels said. “He communicated through the music on the band stand at a level that was extraordinarily high. He embodied my Utopian music esthetic. I was thrilled and overjoyed to be a part of that music.”
Schwartz said the 2009 festival also coincides with two anniversaries – the 80th anniversary of the founding of Southeastern’s music department and the 50th anniversary of the release of “Kind of Blue,” the Miles Davis recording featuring Evans that remains the bestselling jazz album of all time.
The Alumni Jazz Ensemble will start off the festival with a concert April 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Pottle Music Building Auditorium. Among the Southeastern graduates reuniting for the performance are saxophonist John Lyons, trumpet players Jimmy Weber, Bobby Campo and Blake Daniels, trombonist Bob Priez, and bass player John Braud.
On April 24 Israel will join the Southeastern Jazz Combos for a concert at 4 p.m. in the Recital Hall. That evening at 7:30 p.m. Jazz Ensemble II, directed by Schwartz, will take the stage at Pottle Auditorium for a performance that will include Israel’s arrangement of “Love is Here to Stay.” The George and Ira Gershwin tune was one of Evans’ standards, and Schwartz said Evans fans will notice the “Evans-isms” that Israel has incorporated into the piece.
Fans of the Bill Evans Festival may have noted, Schwartz said, that it has moved this year from its traditional February dates to April. “The Bill Evans Jazz Festival makes a great precursor to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which will be opening as our festival ends,” he said. Jazz Ensemble II, he added, will open the New Orleans festival’s Jazz Tent with an 11:15 a.m. performance on May 1.
For additional information about the Bill Evans Jazz Festival, contact Schwartz, 985-549-5938, email@example.com.