Nearly every year Associate Professor of Music Steve Wright takes his Gustavus Jazz Lab Band to the prestigious Eau Claire Jazz Festival hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, not only to perform for a knowledgeable and appreciative audience but also to compete against some of the stellar college and university jazz programs in the Midwest.
The 2010 festival on April 16 attracted big bands, combos, and vocal jazz ensembles from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas, North Dakota, and Iowa, but as the last strains faded, the Gustavus ensemble had taken second place, trailing the jazz powerhouse University of Northern Illinois Jazz Ensemble by only one quarter of a point in the final standings.
One of the oldest and most highly regarded collegiate jazz festivals, the UWEC Jazz Festival offers a day of opportunities for the participating musicians. In addition to hearing other fine bands from across the region and attending clinics by world-class musicians, the competing ensembles present three works of varying styles before a panel of judges and have 10 to 15 minutes following their performance to work with the judges before they move to another venue for the sight-reading competition. The festival concludes with an evening concert featuring the first-place big band and combo, festival host UWEC’s Jazz I, and performances by the guest clinicians.
For the festival, Wright, who has led the jazz ensembles at Gustavus since 1990, selected three works programmed for the band’s recent concert tour of the East Coast, which included concerts in New York City, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. The band opened with Thad Jones’s “Three and One,” followed by Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” featuring an alto saxophone solo by junior geology major Jonathan Monk. The final selection on the short program was “Widow’s Walk,” by Rick Margitza, which featured a tenor saxophone solo by Matt Chroust, a senior biology major with pre-dentistry aspirations.
Four players in the Gustavus Jazz Lab Band earned individual recognition at the festival: Monk and Chroust were named Outstanding Soloists for their alto and tenor saxophone solos, respectively. In addition, Dewey Hall, a senior majoring in biochemistry and biology, earned Outstanding Performer honors as lead trumpet, and Benjamin Wolf, a junior physics and music major, was named Outstanding Performer on bass trombone.
Under Wright’s direction, the Gustavus Jazz Lab Band has consistently finished in the top three at the UWEC Jazz Festival.