The Friends University Jazz Festival turns 20 next weekend with clinics for jazz beginners, performances by jazz-focused music majors and a concerts by internationally recognized jazz acts.
The festival, a two-day event, culminates with a concert by Count Basie Orchestra with the New York Voices, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway.
The orchestra, which has earned 17 Grammy Awards, is made up of 19 people and performs Kansas City swing jazz in the style of Count Basie, a legendary jazz pianist and band leader.
Appearing with the orchestra will be Grammy-winning jazz vocal quartet New York Voices, a group that’s been around for 24 years. The two groups recorded an album together: “Count Basie Orchestra with New York Voices, Live at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild.”
The weekend also will include a jazz vocal invitational concert, featuring several college-level jazz choirs from around Wichita. It requires paid admission and is at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Riney Fine Arts Center’s Sebits Auditorium.
The festival’s main point, though, is to reach out to area high school, middle school and college jazz band students, who are invited to come to Friends not only to see performances but also to work on their own skills.
“It’s really geared toward jazz education and events for middle, high school and junior college students,” said Lisa Hittle, the director of jazz programs at Friends. “The students actually perform and then are evaluated and worked with by jazz clinicians.”
About 850 students attend the festival during its two-day run, Hittle said.
The festival has an intentional emphasis on jazz vocal performances this year, Hittle said.
“Jazz vocal is something that’s really made a resurgence back to our campus in the past few years,” she said. “It’s part of the reason we are doing the headliner concert on Saturday with Count Basie Orchestra and New York Voices.”
The public is invited to stop in to Sebits Auditorium from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday to watch the students perform. Admission is free. Admission to the Jazz Vocal Invitational Concert on Friday is $9 for adults and $6 for seniors and students.