Monday, April 7, 2014

Eau Claire Jazz Festival: An outstanding success

Ben Richgruber, Chancellor James Schmidt, Kim Schmidt, John Genskow
Chancellor James Schmidt and his wife, Kim Schmidt, at a
52nd Street venue with Ben Richgruber (far left), UW-Eau Claire
alumnus and executive director of the Eau Claire Regional Arts
Center, and John Genskow (far right), deputy city engineer for
the city of Eau Claire. Both Richgruber and Genskow are
members of the board of directors of Eau Claire Jazz Inc.,
the hosting organization of the Eau Claire Jazz Festival.
This past weekend, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending several outstanding events that were part of the 47th annual Eau Claire Jazz Festival. Joining us were friends who are parents of a UW-Eau Claire music and jazz studies alumnus – what a treat to experience the festival with them. It was clear that the evening brought back many special memories for them, as it did for the many others who return year after year for the event.

We were blown away Friday evening by the amazing talents of college and professional performers alike during the headliner concert at Memorial High School. Headliners Wycliffe Gordon and Byron Stripling wowed the audience, as did UW-Eau Claire’s very own Jazz Ensemble I and the Honors College Big Band, made up of college musicians from the many universities who participated in this year’s clinics and competitions back on campus. Apparently word of the excellent performance traveled quickly, as I’m told they had a sellout crowd for Saturday’s show.

Following the concert, we headed to 52nd Street (actually, a transformed South Barstow Street) in downtown Eau Claire. From the Alumni Jazz Band performance at The Stones Throw to the variety of performances at the eight additional 52nd Street venues, we and more than 1,300 others were treated to a smorgasbord of jazz, from ragtime to blues to acoustic and more.

Beyond all the awe-inspiring performances and the festivities of 52nd Street, another important piece of Jazz Fest is the learning that takes place by music students from colleges, high schools and middle schools from around the Midwest. All day Friday and Saturday, students participated in clinics and workshops (including sessions with the festival’s internationally acclaimed headliners, Gordon and Stripling) and had opportunities to perform with their ensembles and be critiqued by professional musicians. I’m told we had 130 bands participate in this year’s festival — a record number — which translated to more than 3,000 visiting students who got a great introduction to UW-Eau Claire!

Clearly, the showcase of talent this festival provides is a wonderful gift to our community, and the thousands who turn out to learn, perform and enjoy jazz music have a powerful local economic impact as well.

A big congratulations goes out to Robert Baca, professor of music and the festival’s artistic director, and the Eau Claire Jazz Inc. staff, board members and volunteers who put on an impressive festival! And I’m especially proud of the outstanding work of the UW-Eau Claire students who were behind the scenes making it all come together. A special thank you goes to UW-Eau Claire senior marketing major Paige Kachichian, this year’s festival director, whose leadership, along with the hard work of other UW-Eau Claire student interns, ensured the festival’s success. I can’t wait for Jazz Fest 2015!