Big Band and Beyond 

The Buddy DeFranco Festival promises two nights full of classic jazz

Living in Missoula doesn’t offer many opportunities to develop a taste for live jazz, and for this reason, the Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival has always been a special time for veteran jazz lovers and newbies alike. For those of you who have taken part before, you know the fest is enough to make you feel like you’ve been made privy to those smoky-club nights of lore that you read about in album liner notes, full of tales about the serendipitous moments that spur the penning of classics like “Goodbye Porkpie Hat.” For those of you who haven’t, now’s your chance.

This year is the 22nd year that Lance Boyd and his jazz students are bringing us their festival, and as usual, there are plenty of special guests in addition to the host of mainstays that have contributed to the festival for years.

Festival namesake for the second year and headliner Buddy DeFranco heads up the billing both nights. Often dubbed the “Charlie Parker of the clarinet,” Whitefish resident Bonifacio Ferdinando Leonardo DeFranco, or Buddy DeFranco for simplicity’s sake, has been stretching the capabilities of the clarinet for over 65 years, playing alongside such jazz notables as Billie Holiday, Tommy Dorsey, Art Blakey and Art Tatum. Need I say much more?

The resumes of the artists this year are a virtual map of nearly the entire history of American jazz. Buddy Greco started his 50-year career in the Benny Goodman Orchestra, and has even performed by request for Queen Elizabeth II, who probably asked that he play his classic standard, “The Lady is a Tramp.”

Putting a more modern twist on the festival, saxophonist Bob Berg’s jammed and recorded alongside a few people who’ve dabbled in the genre as well. Names like Miles Davis or Chick Corea ring a bell? If Davis’ name instantly makes traditionalists out there think fusion, don’t fret; Berg’s credits also include work with Horace Silver and Cedar Walton.

Sam Pilafian will be providing the low-down sounds for the festival, courtesy of his tuba, which is probably best known in it’s role in the Empire Brass Quintet. In addition to performing with many of the country’s best symphony orchestras, Pilafian has rounded out the sounds of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Lionel Hampton and even Pink Floyd.

And along with all these veteran performers, some of the festival’s familiar faces are back for more this year, with the all-star trio of David Morgenroth, Clipper Anderson and UM percussion guru Robert Ledbetter backing up the special guests.

With guests as diverse as these, anyone should be able to appreciate the rare mix of styles and chemistry that are sure to occur at this year’s festival, and if you haven’t had enough after the concerts themselves, most of the guests will be having one of those special jam-sessions at the Holiday Inn after one of the shows (so go to the festival to get the low-down). Who knows? Maybe your grandchildren will be reading about what happened one of these two nights in some liner notes years from now?

The Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival is at the University Theatre Friday, April 27 and Saturday, April 28 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for each night are $15 adult, $12 students and $10 general, available at all TIC-IT-E-Z outlets or by calling 1-888-MONTANA.

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