Classy cats 

Our who’s-who guide to a jam-packed jazz weekend


Vibist Dave Samuels is one of the featured artists to play this weekend’s Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival at the University Theatre.
Missoula may not be a hub for jazz, but every year Jazzoula and the Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival make the Garden City a little like Bourbon Street or Chicago’s South Side. To highlight this weekend’s events, we’ve identified five featured players jazz fans won’t want to miss.

Buddy DeFranco
Missoula’s annual preamble to the Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival typically saves its best for last. This year, Jazzoula’s Thursday night lineup includes jazz vocalist Melody Anderson backed by pianist extraordinaire Jodi Marshall, as well as a set with saxophonist Chuck Florence.

But the evening’s highlight may be this year’s inductions into the Jazzoula Hall of Fame since the class is headlined by the man of the weekend himself, Buddy DeFranco, and his wife, Joyce.

“He’s like a giant in the music business,” says Bruce Micklus, who spearheads Jazzoula. “He was one of the very first of the be-bop clarinet players. He was like Sting, you know, top of the top of the top.”

DeFranco, now 86, made his name playing with the Count Basie Septet, Gene Krupa, Charlie Barnet and Art Tatum. He also served as the bandleader of the Glenn Miller Orchestra from 1966 to 1974. Buddy and Joyce DeFranco join University of Montana Jazz Band Director Lance Boyd and clarinetist Dexter Payne as this year’s Hall of Fame inductions.

Melody Anderson and Chuck Florence play Thursday, April 23, at 6 PM, with an awards ceremony following. $7. A Saturday Night Jam Session happens April 25, at 10 PM. $7. Both events show at St. Anthony’s Parish Center.


Dave Samuels
Dave Samuels sees improvisation all around him. The world-renowned vibraphone and marimba player assures me that, in fact, my conversation with him is the very definition of improvisation. I talk, and he reacts. He talks, I respond.

“The process of improvisation is not just something that we’re used to, it’s built into the fabric of who we are,” he says. “Improvisation with a capital ‘I’ kind of represents change and reacting to change. We start out one way and end up completely different. Change is something that is a part of our life cycle.”

It’s an inspiring thought coming from a musician who’s played with everyone from Pat Metheny to Frank Zappa, and who won a Grammy in 2003 for “Best Latin Jazz Recording.” Samuels played from 1977 to 1994 with Spyro Gyra—a band that was smooth jazz before the term hit the radio markets—and now plays with The Caribbean Jazz Project. The latter recently won a Latin Grammy for their album Afro Bop Alliance.

“It’s going to be a real pleasure and honor to be listed as one of the players who got to play with Buddy DeFranco,” says Samuels. “Not only is he a great player, but he’s an idol for me because I hope to be at his age doing exactly what he’s doing.”

Dave Samuels performs as part of the Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival Friday, April 24, at 7:30 PM in the University Theatre. $22/$40 both nights.


Randy Sandke

It often seems that the only way to prove the quality of a jazz musician is to list other musicians he’s played with. With trumpet player Randy Sandke, that list could run a mile. Only 55, he’s already shared the stage with some of the greats, including Benny Goodman, Mel Torme and Cab Calloway, to name a few.

Sandke’s trumpet style is steeped in early jazz influences like Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke, but he’s also adept at more contemporary approaches. He’s played with James Taylor, Billy Joel and Chaka Khan and Sandke started his career in a garage rock band.

Randy Sandke performs as part of the Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival Friday, April 24, at 7:30 PM in the University Theatre. $22/$40 both nights.


Steve Smith
Steve Smith was not a city boy born and raised in south Detroit, but he did play drums for the band Journey. In fact, Smith occupied that position during the band’s most successful years—1978 to 1985—playing on Escape and Frontiers.

But if you’ve ever seen Smith play, you’ll notice that those Swiss Army triplets and buttery drum rolls are suspiciously jazzy. That’s because Smith went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston and toured with jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty before ever setting his sticks afire while Steve Perry sang, “Don’t stop believin’.”

Modern Drummer Magazine readers voted him the best All-Around Drummer five years in a row and in 2001 the same magazine named him as one of the Top 25 Drummers of All Time.

Steve Smith performs as part of the Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival Saturday, April 24, at 7:30 PM in the University Theatre. $22/$40 both nights.


Benny Golson
You may not know it, but the soundtrack of your life features saxophonist Benny Golson. He’s the only living jazz legend to have composed eight standards for jazz repertoire, including “I Remember Clifford,” “Along Came Betty,” and “Killer Joe.” Golson also wrote scores for “The Partridge Family,” “The Academy Awards,” “M*A*S*H” and “Mission Impossible,” not to mention several television commercials for brands including Ore-Ida’s frozen potatoes, Chevy, Heinz and Pepsi.

You may also remember seeing Golson play himself in the movie The Terminal, during which he gave Tom Hanks’ character an autograph. And he composed a tune for the film titled “Terminal 1.” The 80-year-old musician has been at it for 60 years, with 30 albums under his belt and 300 compositions. He may not be in the forefront of your mind, but his music is definitely in your head.

Benny Golson performs as part of the Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival at the University Theatre Saturday, April 25, at 7:30 PM. $22/$40 both nights.
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