Jazz fest goes online

Jazz musician Camille Thurman will perform Feb. 27.

For the first time in its 54-year history, the University of Idaho’s Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival will be held completely online.

UI School of Music Director Vanessa Sielert, who also serves as education adviser for the festival, said organizers made changes to this year’s program to comply with pandemic restrictions. The festival is set for next Thursday through Feb. 27.

Sielert said one major change is there will be no competitive events included in this year’s program. Instead, organizers focused on building educational workshops and creating a slightly unorthodox online concert series.

Online workshops will be offered to soloists, combos and large ensembles who will send in recorded video performances that will be reviewed by adjudicators, including music educators and professional performers from across the country. They’ve also nixed the requirement that students perform with live accompaniment, Sielert said. This allows groups to submit pieces that were recorded separately and later mixed together, and soloists to be accompanied by a recording rather than another live musician.

Students then will meet with their adjudicators via Zoom in whatever format works best for them — whether they’re all in one classroom or on separate devices — to review their performance.

“We knew that public schools were in different situations depending on where they’re located — some are allowed to have small ensembles in their spaces, some are completely online,” Sielert said. “Music education looks very different right now, for everyone, so we wanted to make it as flexible as possible for the constituents to send things in.”

Live evening concerts featuring acclaimed vocal group Säje (rhymes with “beige”) and vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Camille Thurman, among other guests, will be offered online via Zoom free to the public. While there’s no replacement for the energy of an in-person performance, Sielert said organizers are offering online attendees the best experience possible under the circumstances, including a little bit of history from bygone fests.

“Mixed in with their performances, we’re also using footage from past jazz festivals with Lionel Hampton himself and other artists,” she said. “So we’re gonna have a mix of old footage, and then a brand new concert on those evening concerts.”

While in years past workshop events were open to community members at little or no cost, Jazz Fest Manager Josh Skinner said those from the public who wish to attend virtual workshops this year may do so for a flat $25 fee. He said this will help cover the cost of tapping world-class jazz musicians from around the world to be adjudicators of student performances, among other expenses.

“In return, we’re offering our concerts at no cost to the general public, which we’ve never done,” Skinner said. “We knew that the concerts would be more of a focal point for our general public compared to the workshops — that number (of people from the general public) that usually come to the workshops is much smaller than the concerts.”

He said there is a separate fee schedule for schools, students and educators to participate in the full slate of events, but the opportunity for enrollment in that program has largely passed, since the deadline for submitting recordings for adjudication was Feb. 9.

Silert said some of the technological elements used to make this year’s festival accessible may be brought back for future events. While she’s proud of the festival they’ve put together this year, she said everyone is looking forward to a time when the festival can be conducted face-to-face once more.

“It’s exciting that we’re going to be able to reach a broader audience,” she said. “We were able to pull something together that we’re offering to all of the music educators out there who are trying to figure out how they manage music education in this new world.”

Workshop schedules and links are available at www.uidaho.edu/class/jazzfest. Attendance will be limited, and spaces will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.