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Pros join students for UA JazzFest performances

3/16/2017 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Jazz students at The University of Akron will perform during JazzFest.
Trombonist John Fedchock will work with students and perform three concerts during JazzFest at The University of Akron March 21-23.
Vocalist Steve Tyrell will conclude JazzFest with a performance March 24 at E.J. Thomas Hall.
Photos courtesy of The University of Akron School of Music
DOWNTOWN AKRON — In its 16th year, The University of Akron (UA) JazzFest hasn’t changed much.

Organizer, performer and founder Jack Schantz, coordinator of jazz studies at UA, said that’s fine with him.

“My original plan was to bring in a major figure in the jazz world and have him or her for three to four days of teaching, rehearsing and giving master classes and doing rehearsals and performances every evening,” he said. “And that formula has been pretty much adhered to for the whole time.”

This year’s JazzFest features just that March 19 and 21-24, with a slate of performances featuring UA faculty and students, as well as guest performers.

Schantz tries to invite professional musicians who aren’t just respected but also have some connection to the region or the state. For instance, this year’s he’s bringing in trombonist John Fedchock, a Cleveland native and graduate of The Ohio State University with degrees in music education and jazz studies.

“He’s such a great player, but he’s also a great writer and writes most of his music,” Schantz said.

Fedchock will perform three times during the week. He will first perform a free concert with the student jazz combo and lab band March 21 at 7:30 p.m. in Guzzetta Recital Hall, 224 E. Buchtel Ave. The following day, March 22, he’ll perform with UA faculty members at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Stage Door series of intimate, on-stage concerts at E.J. Thomas Hall, 198 Hill St. Admission is $12, but free for UA students and $6 for other students.

Fedchock will perform again with the student big band March 23 at 7:30 p.m., also as part of the Stage Door series at E.J. Thomas. Admission is $12, but free for UA students and $6 for other students.

Schantz is also pretty jazzed to kick off the festival with a performance of David Morgan’s “The Way of the Sly Man.” That will take place March 19 at 7:30 p.m. at Guzzetta Recital Hall.

Trumpeter Schantz will perform as part of an ensemble that will feature Morgan, a music professor at Youngstown State University, and William Hoyt, Mark Gonder, Dan Bruce, Howie Smith, John Klayman, Tom Reed, Theron Brown, Chris Anderson and Nathan Negro.

Schantz said the piece is divided into four parts, representing philosopher and mystic G.I. Gudjieff’s teachings on the so-called “Fourth Way”: “The Way of the Fakir,” “The Way of the Monk,” “The Way of the Yogi” and “The Way of the Sly Man.”

“It’s a blending of Eastern and Western philosophy, a combination of ideas from Buddhism, Islam and Christianity,” Schantz said. “He was the first person to bring these ideas to the West, around 1920. He was a very controversial figure, and his ideas haven’t achieved widespread acceptance, but nonetheless they were very compelling ideas to me.”

Schantz said several years ago he approached Morgan, who is one of his collaborators, with the idea of writing a concert-length piece based on the teachings.

“We worked on this for a long time and were able to get a grant to do a recording of it,” said Schantz, who added the JazzFest concert will be the first time performing the piece since it was recorded.

Admission is $12, but free for UA students and $6 for other students.

JazzFest’s concluding concert will feature a performance by Steve Tyrell and his band March 24 at 7:30 p.m. at E.J. Thomas. Tyrell, a producer and performer, gained attention when he appeared in “Father of the Bride” in 2008. According to his biography, his nine albums of American standards have reached the Top 5 on Billboard’s jazz charts.

He’s worked with performers such as Burt Bacharach, Neil Sedaka and Rod Stewart, and won a Grammy for producing Stewart’s “Great American Songbook, Vol. III.”

Tickets for Tyrell are $25, but free for UA students and $15 for non-UA students.

UA officials said JazzFest is made possible through the support of Frances Bittle and her late husband, Edward Bittle, alumni who shared a love of jazz that led them to establish The Bittle Jazz Residency at the School of Music in 2003. The residency has brought many leading jazz performers to Akron to perform and work directly with UA jazz students.

Schantz said he hopes the public takes advantage of the level of musicianship that will be on display throughout the week.

“Like all performing arts entities on campus, we’re all striving for excellence, and I think this is an opportunity for people to hear what kind of musicians we’re turning out here and experience world-class players in a world-class setting,” he said.

For more information on JazzFest, go to uakron.edu/music or call 330-972-8301.

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