Missoula's jazz scene appears as strong as ever. More local restaurants and breweries have begun to offer live jazz on a weekly basis. Every Sunday night people sip special cocktails at the Badlander's Jazz Martini night to the soundtrack of local groups like the Freemole Quartet and the Donna Smith Trio. The living room concert series known as Daly Jazz hosts big-ticket musicians from New York City to the Bay Area and everywhere in between, for intimate local crowds of 40 people every month. A side order of live jazz, as it turns out, is something of a draw again in Missoula.
This rising tide makes annual festivals like Jazzoula and the Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival more apt. As Jazzoula wraps up on Thursday, the Buddy DeFranco Festival kicks off with two nights of music from a handful of nationally renowned musicians, plus a few key locals. It's time for standards, originals, improv, bebop, cool and hot jazz. On that note (ha!) here are a couple of highlights you won't want to miss.
Lee Konitz is a rebel. When Charlie Parker's fast tempo, multi-note bebop style was the flavor of the day for 1940s jazz musicians, Konitz was busy paring down notes, shifting time signatures and playing around with unexpected phrasing. Isn't it romantic to think about jazz musicians experimenting in some rundown New York apartment behind a Chinese laundry? That's exactly what Konitz did in those days as part of what would later be called the cool jazz movement. Those musicians (including Parker) were looking for a new way to play jazz. Konitz and the rest of them recorded with the Miles Davis Band over several studio sessions and a couple of live gigs for the 1957 Capitol Records release of the famous Birth of Cool album.
At 83 years old, Konitz is essentially a living history of the genre. He's been there for Dixieland, big band styles, bebop, cool and hot jazz. But he's famous for always being committed to experimental, avant garde and alternative. Just what we like to hear.
You couldn't get a bigger contrast to Lee Konitz than Grace Kelly. The 17-year-old saxophone player is just now on the up and up. And unlike Konitz, Kelly sticks to more conventional forms of jazz. But if there was a country of bebop, she might get elected the youngest president of it considering her airtight fluency.
Here's how thing have gone so far for the prodigy: At 12 years old she recorded an album. At 14 she played with the Boston Pops. Last year, when legendary trumpet player Wynton Marsalis saw Kelly guest perform for the Lincoln Center Orchestra, he invited her to join his ensemble in Washington, D.C., for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day/Inauguration Eve concert. Piano crooner Harry Connick Jr. heard Kelly in a master class one afternoon and brought her on stage to sit in with his band that very night. She's been named the youngest alto saxophone rising star by Downbeat magazine readers, and the Boston Music Awards called her the city's Outstanding Jazz Act.
Despite her more conventional style, Kelly happens to be a student of the more experimental Konitz. And for the Buddy DeFranco Festival this year, you'll get to see them play together on Saturday night at the University Theatre in what could be a very interesting clash of titans (and certainly better than the movie).
On Friday night you can see the man of the hour. Buddy DeFranco is now 87 and continues to play his clarinet with no sign of quitting. He started playing when he was 12, helping his blind father support his impoverished Philly family with music. As a young man, he spent a year playing with the Count Basie Quartet and eight years as bandleader for the Glenn Miller Orchestra. He's been named Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts and inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame. Like Konitz, he's lived through an entire history of jazz from its golden eras on through to harmonic revolutions of "hot house" jazz. He's got that sort of breadth of life that most of us only read about in stories or, in many of your cases, see on television.
Jam session at St. Anthony's Parish
After taking in the scene at the University Theatre on Saturday night, you can head down to St. Anthony's Parish at 217 Tremont Street to get in on the late night jam session. All the Buddy DeFranco musicians will be there, including others we didn't mention here, like local jazz piano slinger David Morgenroth.
It's great to see musicians in a music hall giving a nice clean performance, but when it comes down to the essence of jazz, it's all about the after-hours party.
The Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival hits the University Theatre Friday, April 23, and Saturday, April 24, at 7:30 PM nightly. $24 per night/$42 both nights. Jam session kicks off at St. Anthony's Parish Saturday, April 24, at 10 PM. $5. Check out www.umt.edu/defrancojazz for more info.