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Feb. 8, 2012 Volume 33, No. 19

Jazz Series attracts name acts and music fans

Chucho Valdés

Chucho Valdés, Cuba’s premier pianist, will be at the Missouri Theatre Sunday Photo courtesy of CAMI Music


Series benefits university, community

The “We Always Swing” Jazz Series had just wrapped up its 12th concert season when series director Jon Poses invited Michael O’Brien, dean of Arts and Science, to lunch in spring 2007.

During the conversation, Poses said the Jazz Series wanted to bring the renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, led by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, to Columbia. One possible date for the show was in February 2008 — a Sunday night that coincided with the start of the annual A&S Week celebration at MU.

“I said, ‘If you can get Wynton Marsalis, I’ll underwrite the show,’ ” O’Brien recalled. “And we did.”

Since then, the College of Arts and Science has sponsored a major Jazz Series event every February.

This year, the fifth annual A&S Week “Signature Concert” features Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés and his seven-piece ensemble, the Afro-Cuban Messengers at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Missouri Theatre.

Educational component

But the college’s support of the Jazz Series goes beyond a single concert a year. Three years ago, the series became an affiliated program of A&S, an arrangement that provides the nonprofit organization with key material and logistical support.

The college supplies the Jazz Series with computers and tech support, covers health and retirement benefits for two full-time employees, and helps out with marketing and communications.

O’Brien said the college’s support of the Jazz Series pays dividends for the university and the community and benefits students, particularly those in the MU Jazz Studies program.

As a nonprofit organization, the Jazz Series has always had a robust educational component, including a Jazz in the Schools initiative and master classes for aspiring student and local musicians.

This year, the MU Concert Jazz Band, led by Arthur White, director of jazz studies and a member of the Jazz Series board, will perform at two children’s concerts and an evening show with guitarist Russell Malone, the Jazz Series’ Artist-in-Residence.

“Nothing breaks down any perceived barriers between the town and the university better than music and theater,” O’Brien said. “For the town, music and theater become the public face for the university.”

Poses said the affiliation with A&S has only strengthened the Jazz Series’ standing in the community. It’s also given him the resources to attract artists who might otherwise never make it to Columbia.

Three years ago, for instance, the Jazz Series was able to commission new music composed by the late trombonist and composer Bob Brookmeyer for the famed Village Vanguard Orchestra. A recording of the performance at the Missouri Theatre will soon be released on CD.

“I’m not sure we could do such a large-scale project like that on our own,” Poses said. “The goal is always to have the shows pay for themselves, but the fact that you have some support allows you to take the initial risk.”

The risk has paid off. In January, the Jazz Series learned it had received a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. One of only 12 awarded, the grant will support performance and educational programs that feature musicians honored by the NEA as “Jazz Masters.”

Ticket sales are up

Poses said A&S’s support also has helped attract more firsttime ticket buyers, many of whom are MU employees and students.

A good example is this year’s A&S Week “Signature Concert.” In 2001, when Poses brought Chucho Valdés to Columbia for a performance at Columbia College, the Jazz Series sold 260 tickets for the show. Eleven years later, he said, paid attendance is expected to more than double.

“It’s been really invigorating,” Poses said of the affiliation. “It’s energized the Jazz Series and energized me. On a personal level, the dean has become a friend and a colleague. He’s helping the jazz series, and that means a lot to me.”

— Brian J. Wallstin