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Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis would be proud. Jazz is alive and well in Missoula, even if the smoky barrooms are a thing of the past.

The 34th annual UM Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival kicks off this weekend, piggybacking on “Jazzoula” and punctuated by a nightcap at the Top Hat on Saturday evening.

“We’ve got some groups coming in from Spokane and Billings and everywhere in between,” said Rob Tapper, festival director and UM director of jazz studies. “We’ve also got five guys coming in from all over the country. They’re the best of the best — great players, great people and great teachers.”

Lance Boyd started the festival back in the 1980s and ran it up until two years ago, when Tapper took over. He moved the festival to early April to avoid conflict with other events.

Organizers also added a teaching component with a focus on improvisation. The festival is expected to attract 1,500 musicians, including middle- and high-school jazz combos, college groups, choirs, and bands from across the region.

“We pulled a couple levers last year to make some changes,” Tapper said. “We’ve added more educational clinics and sessions during the day for high school and middle school groups. Our guest artists are here for both days, not just one day.”

Guest artists include bassist Clipper Anderson from Seattle, trumpeter Vern Sielert from the University of Idaho, and pianist Dana Landry from the University of North Carolina.

Saxophone player David Pietro of New York and drummer Jim White, also from UNC, round out this year’s guest artist invite list.

“We take pride in considering this one of the best educational festivals in the country,” said Tapper. “I love the way the community embraces the arts events.”

The 34th annual UM Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival runs March 28-29 and includes daytime activities at the UM School of Music and evening concerts at the UM Dennison Theatre.

Evening ticket prices are $18 for adults or $10 for students and senoirs. For more information call 243-6880, or visit umt.edu/music/umbuddydefrancofestival.

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Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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