By Chris Zuver, A&E Editor
From April 18 to the 21, the annual Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival took place at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. Ensembles from middle schools, high schools, and colleges from all across the Missouri and neighboring states gathered to perform, attend clinics, and receive feedback from top judges and clinicians.
On Friday, the featured guest was the University of North Texas One O’clock Lab Band, which was directed by Alan Baylock. Since the 70’s, the band has been nominated for a Grammy Award seven times. The current lineup consists of musicians from across the nation – including three from Missouri – and places as far as Colombia, Taiwan, and Japan. They performed several numbers including original compositions from their own members as well as pieces by other names in jazz such as Dizzy Gillespie.
The following night, the featured guest was Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band to wind down the festival. The 18-piece group, led by Goodwin, performed for almost two hours and played many original numbers as well as re-interpretations of songs such as “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Play that Funky Music.” Throughout the set, Goodwin and his band kept the crowd engaged with high energy and a great sense of humor. By the end of the night, the band had received multiple standing ovations.
Goodwin, who knew he wanted to lead a band since childhood, has spent multiple decades composing, arranging, and conducting for various high-level artists across the musical spectrum, including Ray Charles, Christina Aguilera, Sarah Vaughan, and Quincy Jones to name a few. His songs and orchestration can also be heard in several films including “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” “National Treasure,” “The Incredibles,” “Armageddon,” and “Gone in 60 Seconds.”
On both featured nights, the opening act was the University of Missouri-St. Louis Jazz Ensemble, directed by the festival’s founder – Director of Jazz Studies and Professor Jim Widner. Both nights, the band performed several songs, including pieces Lyle Mays, Tom Kubis, and Tom Harrell. One moment that stood out, however, was during the Friday night show, when they performed a rather emotional ballad by Baylock, called “El Abrazo,” which tells the story of a life which ended too soon. The song was quick to bring tears to the audience.
Both nights, the bands played to a packed theater and uproarious applause. If you missed the show this year, though, don’t worry, because the 2019 festival has already been scheduled for April 11 to the 13, so be sure to save the date.