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All that jazz

The Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival builds steam

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Lance Boyd has been organizing the University of Montana’s annual jazz festival—now known as The Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival—since he founded the event 26 years ago, but this year is different.

“Our goal was always to stimulate a week-long array of festivities,” says Boyd, UM’s jazz director and a low-brass instructor in the music department, “and for the first time, we really have that this year.”

Boyd is referring to five straight days of jazz concerts, including local talent, national acts, open jam sessions and after-hours shows, all leading up to or centered around the Festival’s Friday and Saturday offerings. That end product is the result of two years of steady momentum within the local jazz scene, Boyd says, which he sees as maintaining its popularity beyond just this week.

“Like a lot of things, jazz has come and gone in Missoula,” he says. “It’s something you used to see at the Holiday Inn, where they held concerts for years, and other places have made attempts, but it never seems to work. We’re at a stage now where it seems to have a foundation—it’s proving to be more ongoing.”

Part of the foundation can be seen in the weekly jazz concerts held downtown at The Loft above Higgins Alley restaurant, as well as the resurgence of the 21-year-old Missoula Blues and Jazz Society, which is behind two days of pre-Festival concerts called Jazzoula.

“People don’t realize it, but there’s actually quite a lot going on now, and it’s all a really unique blend,” says trumpeter and composer Kyle Simpson, who hosts an open mic session at The Loft and is finishing his MFA in music under Boyd. “There’s the more established players, like the David Morgenroth Trio, who play standards with their own little twist, and then there are some of the newer players, like myself, who play a fairly contemporary style with pop, Latin, even some polka influence.”

That diversity will continue to be on display Thursday, April 27, through Saturday, April 29, with daily lineups sometimes lasting more than 18 hours. With that sort of schedule, we offer a rundown of the week’s various events, accompanied by selected highlights.

Thursday, April 27

6 PM, Parkside at the Wilma, $6
Jazzoula presents The Chuck Florence Quintet and Eden Atwood singing with the David Morgenroth Trio. Also featured: Lori Conner and Joseph Armetta, and the Kyle Simpson Band.

The draw: Last year’s Jazzoula sold out, with approximately 200 jazz lovers lining up to see the inaugural inductees to the Missoula Blues and Jazz Society’s Hall of Fame, pianist Jody Marshall and guitarist Raleigh McNeal. This year’s pre-Festival show is expected to draw just as strongly, especially on this, its second night, with saxophonist Florence, a former member of the Big Sky Mudflaps, and vocalist Atwood receiving honors for their contributions to the local scene.

Friday, April 28

8 AM to 4 PM, University Theatre, free.
The Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival presents adjudicated college, high school and junior high school jazz band performances.

7:30 PM, University Theatre, $20/$15 students.
The Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival presents Swiss-born saxophonist George Robert and New York piccolo trumpet virtuoso Lew Soloff playing with DeFranco.

10:30 PM, The Loft at Higgins Alley Upstairs, $8
The Loft presents an after-hours show with New Orleans via Portland saxophonist Devin Phillips performing with the David Morgenroth Trio and special guest Kyle Simpson.

The draw: See sidebar at right for more info on Phillips. At the Festival, keep an eye on Soloff. The trumpeter cut his teeth with Blood, Sweat & Tears from 1968 to 1973, performing the memorable horn lines in “Spinning Wheel,” which was part of the group’s Grammy-winning Album of the Year. Since then he’s recorded with the likes of Sinead O’Connor, Philip Glass and Keb’ Mo’.

Saturday, April 29

8 AM to 4 PM, University Theatre, free.
The Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival presents adjudicated college, high school and junior high school jazz band performances.

7:30 PM, University Theatre, $20/$15 students
The Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival presents Grammy-winning jazz vocal ensemble New York Voices, performing with DeFranco.

10:30 PM, Parkside at the Wilma, $5/$3 students.
Jazzoula hosts an after-hours jam session open to all musicians, with The Tony Hammond Sextet warming up the crowd.

The draw: Missoula Blues and Jazz Society founder Bruce Micklus, who also serves on an advisory council for the Festival, chooses his words carefully when talking about Jazzoula’s jam session: “It’s almost better than the concerts themselves,” he says. It’ll have to be pretty impressive to outshine New York Voices, which, according to Boyd, “Is guaranteed to blow off the roof” with their rapid and playful four-part contemporary delivery. Also, opening for New York Voices will be the UM Jazz Ensemble debuting an original piece written by Simpson titled “Distant Meadows.”

Devin Phillips adopts the Northwest

For Devin Phillips, the biggest difference by far is the food. Seven months ago, the New Orleans-bred saxophonist was forced from his hometown by Hurricane Katrina and ended up, through a special project created by the Portland Jazz Festival, in Oregon. The move could’ve been temporary—in conjunction with a local travel agency, Phillips was provided free travel, housing and access to work, along with 50 other Louisiana transplants, under a program called NOLA2PDX—but food aside, Phillips likes the scene enough to call the Northwest his new home.

“It’s almost like an island in New Orleans, where we all speak our own language,” says Phillips, who’s one of a dozen musicians who’ve decided to stay. “I miss some things—the food especially—but the reception from the Portland community has been worth it to stay. The music scene here is open and receptive, we’ve had great press and the crowds have been impressive. For me, it’ll be okay here.”

Phillips, 24, who specializes in both tenor and soprano sax, has recorded with Lenny Kravitz, toured with Latin jazz band Los Hombres Calientes and performed regularly with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, but his connection to Missoula comes courtesy of Signal Path and local promoter/musician Damon Metzner. For years, Metzner, a New Orleans native who met Phillips when the two were in high school, had been aiming to bring his friend to Missoula to perform live, and once Phillips relocated to the same general quadrant of the country it became feasible. Phillips will make his Missoula debut with an after-hours show Saturday, April 23, at The Loft (see schedule at left), a venue Metzner helped launch with weekly jazz performances in November.

“There are a million different musicians out there who can play jazz with great proficiency, but Devin is a powerhouse,” says Metzner. “He’s a commanding presence live—he plays with a clear, distinct tone, and he plays with authority. He’s unlike anyone we have here.”

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