Carolina Jazz Festival to Honor Birthplace of Jazz

The Mississippi River bends in a crescent shape as it makes its way around and through New Orleans, giving rise to one of the city’s nicknames.

This year, the Crescent City will be honored as the birthplace of jazz at the Carolina Jazz Festival, Feb. 24-28 at UNC.

Taking the theme “Crescent City Connections,” the festival will offer eight performances, three educational events and two late-night jam sessions at Chapel Hill’s West End Wine Bar. Many of the sessions will be free to the public. The schedule is available online.

New Orleans musicians will perform; works by the city’s jazz composers will fill the air. In a sold-out opening concert, New Orleans’ the Neville Brothers and Dr. John will rock Memorial Hall on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 24.

Tickets remain for the second marquee concert, by the Branford Marsalis Trio on Feb. 27. The 8 p.m. show in Memorial will feature the New Orleans native and three-time Grammy winner, a saxophonist, composer and bandleader.

These two concerts also are part of this year’s Carolina Performing Arts season.

Events between the two will include a one-day festival featuring high school jazz bands from across the state; UNC jazz band and jazz combos concerts with artists in residence for the festival, saxophonist Joel Frahm and trumpeter Joe Magnarelli; a clinic with the two to which anyone may bring his or her horn and learn from the pros; and a performance by the North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra.

UNC music Professor Jim Ketch, director of the festival and of jazz studies at UNC, said it will mean the world to budding young musicians to mingle with the likes of Frahm and Magnarelli.

“It’s a real source of pride for our students to have these artists here on campus for four days,” Ketch said. “To rub shoulders with these artists and gain feedback from our shared performances will be wonderful.”

Besides teaching about creating jazz and mastering instruments, the musicians will speak with the students about the lifestyles of professional musicians.

Soon after the festival, another Crescent City Connection will surface for UNC. March 7-14, during Carolina’s spring break, 20 members of the UNC Jazz Band will volunteer for Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans. They’ll join rebuilding efforts that have been under way since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the city in 2005.

“We hope to be assigned to the Ninth Ward, where the New Orleans Habitat Musician’s Village is being built,” Ketch said. The development of 70 houses, which recognizes that numerous musicians lost their homes in the disaster, was started by city natives and musicians Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis. More information is available online.

The UNC band aims to work for Habitat during the day and play concerts at night, Ketch said. So far, they have four bookings and several other possibilities. They will stay with other volunteers at Camp Hope, a converted middle school that acts as a kind of dormitory for visitors who come to help rebuild the city. “Our last night there, we will play a concert/dance for all those volunteers,” Ketch said.

Their songs will echo those heard in clubs around the French Quarter some 100 years ago, as strains of French, Spanish, Caribbean and African-American music began to blend together to produce something new.

“It was sort of this perfect gumbo that had elements of blues, ragtime, brass band and other traditions that were distilled in the first two decades of the 20th century and became a music known as jazz,” Ketch said.

Listen for the spirit of New Orleans natives Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet and other jazz pioneers and innovators throughout the 2009 Carolina Jazz Festival at UNC. For more information, call (919) 962-1039.

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