The featured performers at the 24th annual Friends University Jazz Festival, set for this weekend, are a nod to a sizable population of people of Cuban heritage living in Wichita.
Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, a popular Afro-Cuban jazz band, will perform Friday and Saturday night at the university, part of a weekend-long festival primarily for jazz students.
Friends’ jazz vocal ensemble and its jazz ensemble will perform with the group, which has started receiving mainstream exposure – even being the subject of an NPR Tiny Desk concert last summer.
It’s not the first time the group has played in Wichita – Friends’ director of jazz programs, Lisa Hittle, hosted Bunnett & Maqueque in September of 2014, when the group had just recently formed.
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“Since that time, they have really, really gained a lot of notoriety,” Hittle said. “They have been to Australia, to Europe, they’ve headlined major jazz festivals. … It’ll be really fun to have them back now that they’ve kind of become much more well-known and well-traveled.”
Hittle first met Bunnett, a multiple Juno Award-winning Canadian jazz artist, when she was preparing to take a group of Friends jazz students to perform at the Havana Jazz Festival in December of 2012.
Since then, the two have remained close friends, they say.
“I was just really, really impressed” with Hittle, Bunnett said. “Not only is she a really good saxophonist – she has had a life outside of that university, too, playing in some well-known bands, but she’s not a boasty person. … I just think she’s really a wonderful person. I wish I had had a music teacher like her.”
Bunnett, who has performed Cuban jazz for decades, formed Maqueque in 2014 as a means to give female Cuban instrumentalists a chance to perform. She had known many who were talented and who had gone through years of conservatory schooling, but noticed few were ever seen performing publicly in Cuba.
“On the scene, it’s mostly the guys that are performing,” Bunnett said. “I just found I’d be at a jam session and I’d try to get a couple of girls up that I recognized from the schools, and they’d be real hesitant to jam. I just felt it was time” to form Maqueque.
Hittle said a growing contingent of Wichitans of Cuban heritage are gathering to attend the shows and socialize together and with the Cuban artists performing in Maqueque.
“They’re all pretty much connected with each other and have some events they do to get together,” Hittle said. “That’s going to be really fun. … I found out that there’s quite a large Cuban community here in Wichita.”
The Friends University Jazz Festival is an annual event in which jazz bands from middle schools, high schools and community colleges from across the state come and perform short sets at Friends to receive critiques by jazz professionals like Bunnett (otherwise known as clinicians). Every festival has a headlining act like Bunnett & Maqueque, that Friends students get to jam with and take master classes from.
The festival is open to the public, and the school jazz sessions throughout the day are free. Tickets are required for the two primetime concerts with Bunnett & Maqueque.
24th annual Friends University Jazz Festival
When: School performances from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fri., noon to 4 p.m. Sat. Headlining performances by Jane Bunnett & Maqueque at 7:30 p.m. Fri. and Sat.
Where: Friends University Riney Fine Arts Center, 2100 W. University
What: Festival featuring performances by middle school, high school and community college jazz groups during the day, and headlining performances by internationally known jazz group Jane Bunnett & Maqueque at night, featuring jazz musicians from Friends.
Admission: Daytime performances free, headlining performances $9 for adults, $6 for seniors and students