Legends of the festival - Drivers of UM Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival to be inducted into Missoula Jazz Hall of Fame
Legends of the festival - Drivers of UM Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival to be inducted into Missoula Jazz Hall of Fame

The story of Buddy and Boyd begins with a young teacher fresh out of grad school stepping foot on a politically charged campus, with Stan Kenton humming in his head.

Lance Boyd was 26. A Minnesota guy. Trombone player. And in 1968, a green teaching assistant in the University of Montana Department of Music.

Buddy DeFranco, meanwhile, was a world away from Missoula, the hottest jazz clarinetist on the planet. Even with a map, he probably couldn't find the mountain town that would, in 30 years, host a world-class jazz festival bearing his name.

A decade ago, both of their lives collided in a way that neither would have ever dreamed. Least of all the young teacher who had, to that point, never taken a jazz lesson in his life, said the now-67-year-old Boyd.

"I didn't," he said, "know what the hell I was doing."

Quite a statement for Lance Boyd. Missoulians know him as the musical director of the UM Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

Official or unofficial, that's "Missoula institution" status.

The UM Jazz Festival began in 1981, almost 20 years before Buddy DeFranco put his name to it.

It was Boyd who wanted it. Appointed to take over the "jazz workshop" in 1970, he had no plans of being a jazz instructor. Certainly he loved the genre, and had lots of experience playing in jazz groups back in Minnesota. But Boyd never figured jazz would become his life and legacy.

But this is how you improvise a career.

"It's kind of amazing how the path you think you're on turns into another path," said Boyd, as he was preparing for this weekend's jazz festival. "I don't see myself as a jazz person. I consider myself a band director who deals in the area of jazz."

In 1970, Boyd was the assistant band director and low-brass instructor at UM. The jazz workshop? More or less a side gig.

Hired full-time in 1972, Boyd began building a jazz program. By 1979, the year he met his soon-to-be-wife Fern Glass, Boyd's jazz program was in full swing.

"By the time I arrived, he was very much the director of the jazz program," said Glass, hired in 1979 as a cello instructor. "He was invested in the program right from the beginning."

While pursuing the young cellist, Boyd also began to pursue the idea of a jazz festival. Other schools had them. Boyd's idol, big band legend Stan Kenton, believed in them.

Boyd had a couple of "stumbling successes" with jazz-festival-type concerts in the 1970s.

And so in 1981, the UM Jazz Festival was born. Its first guest artist was trombonist Bill Watrous.

Glass remembers the scale of that festival, compared to what it has become today.

"It was pretty small potatoes," she said. "But it was one of the most exciting things he's ever done."

All the while, as the festival grew year to year, Boyd was learning the art of jazz himself, both as a player and a director. There is no jazz program today that offers on-the-job-training, but that's exactly what Boyd has done through the years.

"I had never taken a jazz lesson in my life," Boyd said, without a hint of irony. "I had to learn a lot about the language of jazz. I was more of an intuitive player, by ear."

Boyd's students would never have known it, had he not told them. What they did know was that their director was completely intolerant of mediocrity, tardiness or "getting by."

"Maybe that's what I have going for me - I feel pretty confident about my instincts," is how Boyd put it. "I feel like I have a sense of what I want."

Glass was in a unique position, as his wife, colleague and fan, to watch Boyd grow musically.

"I think Lance's love for jazz has been fueled by his love for jazz," she said. "It's been this lust in his heart, this incredible passion. Everything he's done has been informed by that passion."

Besides its gradual growth, two things turned the UM Jazz Festival into the world-class institution it is today.

Boyd recalls them quickly: The 1985 Jazz Festival, and then the fortuitous offer of one new Montana resident by the name of Buddy DeFranco.

To be in the crowd of the 1985 festival was to witness history. Though the festival had its share of big names to that point, there was none bigger than Clark Terry, probably the most celebrated jazz trumpeter of the 20th century.

Add to that program Missoula's own trumpet phenom Alan Vizzutti, and put them onstage together straight, no chaser.

The crowd was drunk with awe.

"It floored me," said Boyd, sharing the sentiments of the packed house that evening. "In my own mind, the quality of what we were trying to do took a big jump. Things shot up at that point."

And in 1998, another legend took the stage with the UM jazz band: Buddy DeFranco.

DeFranco, the world's foremost bebop clarinetist, had moved just the year before to Whitefish with his wife, Joyce.

"I was asked what I thought about heading the jazz festival in Missoula," recalls DeFranco, in a phone call from his winter home in Florida. "Well, we decided to give it a try. And it turned out pretty well."

"Pretty well" turned into an idea that was turned into reality two years later. The UM Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival was born in 2000.

Neither Boyd nor Buddy would agree to such a deal if each didn't believe the other had jazz education - what's best for the students - at the forefront of their philosophy.

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"It's really based on what's best for the students," said Boyd. "I guess I could see the importance of having a name like Buddy DeFranco, and what that would bring to the university and ultimately the students."

DeFranco said Boyd walks the walk when it comes to that philosophy.

"My idea along with Lance was to enforce the idea of American jazz in the schools," he said. "Lance has worked tirelessly in making jazz in the schools an important part of the function of this festival."

On their 10th anniversary together, Lance Boyd and Buddy DeFranco and his wife Joyce are being honored by the Jazzoula committee as "jazz ambassadors" to the city of Missoula.

Rockin Rudy's owner Bruce Micklus, Jazzoula chairman, said the honor couldn't have come at a better time.

"They've really been wonderful ambassadors for the music," said Micklus. "Buddy's involvement has really put (the festival) on the map. And Lance has kept jazz alive in this community for more than 30 years."

On Thursday night, both will be inducted into the Missoula Jazz Hall of Fame at the Jazzoula concert in St. Anthony's Catholic Parish.

Boyd is flattered. But his main concern is for the future of jazz at the University of Montana. He is currently working on the establishment of a jazz degree program within the music school, one he'd like to see implemented before he retires.

"The days and the weeks and the months and the years have just streaked by," he said. "Obviously, I'm on the threshold of having to hang it up. But I have that one more thing I want to see in place."

The jazz festival has grown so large that even Boyd can't keep a handle on it. Details are handled by committee, with Boyd at the helm of a large ship.

His tenure at UM in its twilight, Boyd still has yeoman's work as the festival approaches, but enough time to look back at a career improvised, a life in music that was composed - he says - largely by forces other than himself.

"I wish I could say I designed this from day one," he said. "But I just follow the path that was laid out in front of me."

Fern Glass figured that would be her husband's answer.

"As much as he would never admit this, I think the festival has become a great source of pride for Lance," she said. "He's built this monster, this huge undertaking. And his excellence as a teacher, his growth as a performer and educator, all those things have fueled him."

Reporter Jamie Kelly was a student of Lance Boyd's jazz program for seven years. He can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

Get jazzed

Lance Boyd and Buddy and Joyce DeFranco will be honored as Missoula "jazz ambassadors" Thursday night at the Jazzoula concert at St. Anthony's Parish Center, 217 Tremont. The concert begins at 6 p.m. Tickets are $7, $5 for students and seniors, and available at Rockin Rudy's and at the door.

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