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Festival Jazzes Up UNC Campus

Before, the festival usually totaled about 10 events, but, by its 24th year, the festival has almost doubled. It includes a steady stream of events that began in January and will conclude with an eclectic schedule of performances, intellectual discussions and events running through March 3.

Jazz has inspired everything from film to art, and each of the upcoming events shows the music's impact on society, said James Ketch, director of the festival and chair of the UNC jazz studies department.

Throughout the next week the Communication Studies Department will present four different movies influenced by jazz. The Carolina Jazz Festival Showcase, held at the Carrboro ArtsCenter, will offer swing lessons, poetry and performances by various local musicians and dancers on Saturday.

The John and June Allcott Gallery in Hanes Art Center houses "Jazz: Visual Evidence," an exhibit highlighting two artists that have been influenced by the jazz sound in their work through March 3. Art Professor James Gadson is the curator of the exhibit, which features the work of New Orleans sculptor John T. Scott and New York artist Douglas Vogel. Using Scott's sculpture as an example, Gadson said the artwork's spontaneous quality stems from the improvisational nature of jazz.

"Scott said he tried to do (in his art) what African-American musicians had done with gospel, blues and jazz -- when you hear it, it rapts your soul," he said.

The PlayMakers Repertory Company opened "Side Man," a chronicle of the darker aspects of a traveling jazz musician's life, on Jan. 31.

The play's look at the sacrifices and abuses jazz musicians endure might seem dichotomous to a festival that celebrates the music. But Ketch said the depiction of jazz musicians in "Side Man" is merely a facet of the genre. "The intensity and pain we experience in 'Side Man' is nicely balanced with the positive role jazz education is having on the lives of many students in the Department of Music and on the campus."

Although other departments in the humanities have contributed to the festival, several concerts constitute a large part of the festival. Saturday will feature the UNC Jazz Combos in the Morehead Planetarium. Entitled "Under the Stars," the bands will play short sets while the planetarium's dome will show its constellations -- a concept Ketch said was initiated by the planetarium's staff.

Usually performing in Hill Hall's auditorium or practice room, UNC Jazz Band pianist Branson Page, a senior political science major, said the chance to perform in the planetarium's darkened atmosphere is a unique experience.

While the festival allows University-related jazz musicians a forum to showcase themselves, several established jazz musicians will perform at the festival as well -- among them is tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins on March 2.

Rollins, widely considered to be one of the greatest tenor saxophonists alive, played with some of the most imposing figures of jazz music, including Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Bud Powell. "Rollins is the greatest improviser living today -- he's willing to risk it all in one solo," Ketch said.

In addition to Rollins' contributions to jazz, the Carolina Jazz Festival also celebrates the impact Louis Armstrong made on both the genre and American culture.

On the same day of Rollins' performance, 10 jazz scholars from across the country will gather to examine various aspects of Louis Armstrong's impact on jazz and American culture, ranging from examinations of Armstrong's New Orleans influences to his relationships with women. The symposium, entitled "Celebrating Louis Armstrong's Centennial," is hosted by Ketch and Duke University musicology Professor Thomas Brothers at 9 a.m. in Person Recital Hall.

Armstrong first came to prominence in Storyville, New Orleans' equivalent to the Red Light District, where he created a distinct New Orleans sound. In Ken Burns' recent "Jazz" series on public television, Armstrong was considered to be one of the two central figures in jazz history.

Armstrong's central role in the "Jazz" series, as well as the attention he garners by jazz scholars, has created a renewed interest in the famed trumpeter. "I think Armstrong is really coming into his own on his 100th birthday," Brothers said. "It's born out of interest and full recognition of what a complicated figure he was -- we can see him as one of the most important figures of the 20th century, not only as a musician but also as a singer."

Armstrong's public persona -- that of the smiling, eager-to-please entertainer -- was often considered stereotypical of black entertainers, despite his advocacy of civil rights in songs such as "Black and Blue."

Ketch said Armstrong's complexity has made him not only a central musical figure but also a fascinating object of scholarly research. Ketch added that although Armstrong's performances to predominantly white audiences in the '40s were frowned upon by critics, the musician nevertheless opened doors for the black entertainers that followed him.

Bruce Raeburn, curator of the Hogan Jazz Archives at Tulane University in New Orleans and one of the contributors to Armstrong symposium, said many of the arguments surrounding Armstrong are less telling of the artist than of American society. "Armstrong's persona stayed pretty much the same, but what changed was the perspective of society," he said. "He was probably one of the ground-breaking African Americans in the history of America."

While Ketch said the events honor jazz's past, the interest in the festival helps ensure the genre's future. "Academia has been the replacement of 52nd Street," Ketch said. "Jazz musicians can't support themselves from playing in clubs anymore, increasingly they are reaching to college and university campuses and into the jazz education movement.

"Through our work on campus, hopefully students will become smitten by the music," he added. "It won't be a background companion, but rather a music that demands that you stop, listen and contemplate its meaning."

For more information on any of the 2001 Carolina Jazz Festival events, visit http://www.artscarolina.org.

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The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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