Famed saxophonist Branford Marsalis will headline the Second Annual Celebration of jazz festival in November, as organizers hope to improve upon low turnout at last spring's festival. Organizers plan to captialize on Marsalis' popularity in order to draw a crowd to their weekend program of activities. "We're hoping students will take to it," festival Chairperson Alan Stern said earlier this week. The music of Marsalis, who has performed with rock musician Sting, was most recently featured in Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues, released this summer. Stern said the festival needs to fill three quarters of the 1940-seat Irvine Auditorium in order to pay for Marsalis' performance fee of $12,500 on November 2. "We tried to figure out who would be attractive on that large a scale," said the College senior. Stern said that while Marsalis is a talented performer, his fame was an asset that made him one of the festival's top choices. "We don't want to get someone who we think is great, but who can't sell a single seat," he added. The festival began last year, when organizers attracted 1000 people to hear featured saxophonist Sonny Rollins, according to festival Vice Chairperson Sherry Riesner. The idea to bring jazz performers to the University began nearly two years ago when Stern and a friend decided to investigate the possibility. They organized a staff of student volunteers and gained recognition by the Student Activities Council. Since then, a core group of students have worked diligently to secure a top jazz performer and were rewarded with Rollins and now with Marsalis. The weekend's educational segment will include a panel discussion on the boundaries between improvisation and composition in jazz and an exhibit of photographs by Milt Hinton, a musician who photographed and performed with many jazz stars. History Professor Neil Leonard, who teaches a course at the University on the history of jazz and its impact on American society, said yesterday that the festival's presence on campus demonstrates positive interest in jazz music. "It's very encouraging," he said. "It's important American music. [The festival] represents an important reflection of the ethnic diversity that we seem to be achieving on this campus." The festival goes beyond big-name performers. "We want to combine the entertainment and educational aspect of jazz -- as entertainment and as part of history -- into one big weekend of activity," said Stern. Organizers said earlier this week that they are unsure if a jazz performer, even one as well known as Marsalis, will be able to draw sell-out crowds due to the waning popularity of jazz. And jazz critic Francis Davis, who will be a panelist at a festival discussion, added that public interest in jazz is low, both for performers and for writers. "If you're going through a period like we are now when jazz musicians are not much in demand, there's not much demand for articles on jazz, either," said Davis. The organizers say coordinating the festival was a learning experience. "Preparing for your classes is so abstract," said Vice Chairperson Stephen Lapointe, a College senior. "With this, we're actually making something happen."Comments powered by Disqus
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