Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival goes virtual

Scott Jackson, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho
·3 min read

Feb. 23—The 54th annual Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, hosted by the University of Idaho's eponymous school of music, will be delivered virtually this year, but organizers are still finding a way to showcase young talent.

Included with a slate of professional performers for this year's fest is a student ensemble assembled from universities across the country that are affiliated with the Grammy Museum.

Vanessa Sielert, director of the UI's school of music and education adviser for the festival, said the group, called the Grammy Museum Affiliate Collective, is an opportunity to expose students to "the rest of the world."

"I think that it shows our students that there's more to music than what's just happening in their front yard," Sielert said. "That's kind of the point is to open them up to collaboration with musicians from all over the world."

Sielert said the group was coached by a pair of UI professors and their performances will be aired alongside professional musicians during virtual concerts associated with the festival.

UI professor of jazz piano Kate Skinner, who helped coach the group, said students were selected by their instructors at participating schools and all of them are talented jazz musicians.

Skinner said the opportunity to be showcased at a world-renowned jazz festival as part of an elite ensemble is a high honor and a feather in their professional cap, but also an opportunity to meet their peers in the jazz world.

"The community is small and the friends that you make in your undergrad and graduate years can be very influential throughout your career," Skinner said. "So, who knows, there's potential that these musicians who never would have met otherwise, would later cross paths and maybe play together again and like it enhance each other's careers."

The collective's debut performances will be aired as part of the festival's Friday and Saturday concerts. Skinner said one of the tunes is a song called "Self Portrait in Three Colors" from jazz bass legend Charles Mingus, and another, dubbed "Synthesis in Distance," is an original composition from one of the collective members.

Drummer for the collective, Ivana Gonzales, who attends the University of California, Berkeley, said collaborating over a distance was a challenge — particularly for jazz music which can lean on the energy of a live performance.

"Doing this online, you have to basically be more aware when you are listening to people playing," Gonzales said. "I have to try to figure it out like, 'Okay, I think this is going to sound good if I play this,' but because we don't have that eye contact or something, we needed to trust more in the other person."

UI student Josh Day, who is one of two keyboardists for the ensemble, said inclusion in the ensemble is a high honor. He said being chosen by instructors for participation in the collective stands as a testament to the hard work he has put in as a student.

"For me, it just feels like it's kind of a culmination of my experience here at the University of Idaho," Day said. "It just forces me to reflect on where I was when I came to the school and how far I've come since then ... It was really an honor to be picked for this."

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.