The 39th Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival continues its mission of education and performance, bringing in more than 50 middle school and high school ensembles from the Northwest. But Rob Tapper, jazz program director at the UM School of Music, isn’t settled.
“We always want more,” he said. “We’re trying to build the education part.”
The more visiting ensembles the better, Tapper said, and they’ve tried to incorporate some competition aspects and awards to entice players and directors to attend.
Medals are given to middle school and high school players for outstanding musicianship, with runners-up announced at performances, while other awards are given to the best soloists and sections.
Tapper is also excited about their two hourlong blocks, one focused on improvisation and the other focused on individual instruments. The first hour, band members will be put in random groups to learn improv with new bandmates. The second hour will have each visiting guest artist teach a master class on their instrument, providing focused teaching on an individual level.
“We try to provide as many educational, nurturing experiences for our bands as possible,” Tapper said.
The festival’s highlight, for both students and Missoula jazz fans, are the six visiting artists, all well-versed on their individual instruments. They will teach over two days and then perform in an “all-star sextet” at the final performance.
This year there are two returning guests: bassist Ashley Summers, who last visited the festival in 2017, and trumpet player Steve Roach, who visited in 2013.
Tapper said he doesn’t bring back artists very often — he has a few who rotate through —but thought it was important to try and give students who visit year after year a different teacher and different experience each time.
The other guests include Missoula native Aric Schneller, a trombonist who is now based out of Houston, along with saxophonist Doug Stone, drummer Brian Claxton and pianist Matt Harris.
Claxton toured internationally with pianist Monty Alexander and Harris has recorded and worked with Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson. He played in an ensemble with Rush drummer Neil Peart at a Rich tribute concert.
Stone, who plays other woodwinds as well as saxophone, has also toured with Ferguson, as a member of his band Big Bop Nouveau.
Famed jazz composer Bob Brookmeyer described Stone as a “virtuoso,” after seeing him play a version of “Nasty Dance” live, which Brookmeyer wrote and arranged.
“To even play this piece is hard enough but Doug took it to places I had not imagined — it was virtuoso playing on the highest plane and I frankly don’t know how he managed it. When you 'show your ass' to the world, it better be blemish-free — his shone like a baby,” Brookmeyer said.
Schneller is one of a few brass artists sponsored by Yamaha, while Roach’s credits include recording with Tito Puente and Lou Rawls.
Each of the six guests are standouts, according to Tapper.
“All of them," he said. "These are first-call people."