– PHOTO: The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra was one of the featured bands at the 2015 Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival at the Touhill. Photo courtesy of the Blanche M. Touhiil Performing Arts Center-
By Christian DeVerger, Staff Writer for The Current

The weekend of March 20-21 marked the University of Missouri—St. Louis’ annual hosting of the Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. The event included performances from local bands and musicians from all over the area, as well as jazz workshops and two evening shows featuring some of the most outstanding names in jazz.

Created and led by UMSL’s head of jazz studies, Jim Widner, the festival is a three-day event focused on the education and promotion of jazz. While big name musicians do come to play concerts, the primary focus is to allow music students a unique opportunity. Not only do hundreds of local students get a chance to meet legends of the genre, they also get to attend clinics to gain feedback from some of the most qualified musicians in the field. Further, students even get a chance to play on the same stage with masters of the art.

This year, the headliners of the festival included saxophone great Lou Marini, trumpet player Clay Jenkins, Grammy-nominated trombonist Steve Wiest, and St. Louis native and drummer Montez Coleman. The second night featured the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with an additional performance from UMSL’s own Jazz Ensemble.

The night of March 20 featured the all-star jazz combo, which included Marini, Jenkins, Wiest, and Coleman, as well as the UMSL Jazz Ensemble. The group kicked off the night with the tune “ASAP,” and continued to play a wonderful set, which included arrangements of songs such as “Work First,” and “The Meaning of Blues” among many others. Following a small break for the ensemble, the combo of guest musicians played a selection of pieces. Their set also included special guest Ken Kehner, one of UMSL’s own jazz instructors. After a brief period, the Ensemble came back on stage and finished the night with “Sweet Home Chicago.”

The second evening featured the fantastic Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. The UMSL Jazz Ensemble once again kicked off the evening with a set that included “Soon,” “Torque,” “El Abrazo,” and Clayton-Hamilton’s very own “Nice to Meet You.” The evening then featured the orchestra performing a number of their popular arrangements, as well as a plethora of outstanding solos. Some of the most memorable included a haunting section of bass played by the orchestra’s namesake and conductor, John Clayton and an astounding guitar driven piece, led by the youngest member of the Orchestra, 28-year-old Graham Dechter.

The festival’s two main performances were an absolute success, and with or without much knowledge of the jazz genre, any music fan surely would have been impressed. All the performers played with such passion that the audience was left awestruck. The sheer mastery and dedication that was exemplified onstage throughout the event was a beautiful showcase of both professional and student talent. The Greater Saint Louis Jazz Festival was an amazing event that exemplified true love for music.

©  The Current 2015