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Jazz Festival to focus on women in the arts

Craig Owens thought the Wichita Jazz Festival could use a new perspective. So he has expanded the usual lineup of concerts to include other events relating to women and the arts. Music is still at the heart of this year’s festival, which begins Wednesday and concludes Saturday and will feature jazz concerts by local and national acts, as well as a full day of free performances Friday by college, high school and middle school jazz bands. But festival events will also include a book reading, a film screening, a symposium and a creativity workshop for kids. The focus will be on women in the arts, and women’s health and social issues, as well.

Owens’ hope is to expand the audience for jazz while introducing Wichita to several women with fascinating stories to tell.

Jazz lovers should not fret about the expanded focus. The headlining concert Saturday will feature three noted jazz musicians whose styles cover a broad spectrum of music. Flute player Nicole Mitchell, from Chicago, synthesizes jazz, world music and postmodern improvisation. Kathy Kosins, from Detroit, is a straight-ahead vocalist of the old school.

And bass player Linda Oh represents younger jazz musicians who are further expanding the music’s boundaries. “Her generation is synthesizing all these different elements to which they have been exposed” — including avant-garde classical music, traditional jazz and indie rock, said Owens, a jazz guitarist and professor at Wichita State University.

The Wichita Jazz Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. Wednesday with a free concert at Abode Home, 1330 E. Douglas, featuring Bodo Ensemble, Beau Jarvis, David Lord and the Kurt Aiken Trio.

Other festival events will feature different creative endeavors by women:

At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Watermark Books, jazz journalist Michelle Mercer, who grew up in Conway Springs, will read from two books she has written about music: “Footprints,” a biography of saxophonist Wayne Shorter; and “Will You Take Me As I Am,” a cultural and autobiographical look at singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell around the time she was creating her album “Blue.”

At 7:30 p.m. Thursday at WSU’s CAC Theatre, filmmaker Sabrina McCormick will present a free screening of her documentary “No Family History,” about the connections between environmental contaminants and breast cancer through one woman’s experience.

At 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Regents Room in WSU’s Rhatigan Student Center, festival artists will talk about their experiences as women and as artists — and discuss whether gender biases intrude into their lives and their work.

“One of the reasons we are doing this is to talk to these women and compare their experiences, because they are from very different backgrounds,” Owens said. “And I feel personally that even though we would like to think we have made progress as far as gender stereotypes are concerned, I sense, personally, that there are still many barriers.

“Look at advertising. Look at the objectification of women — it’s worse than ever. And to say that that does not affect how women deal with the workplace or how they are dealt with, you must be hopelessly naive.”

From 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, musicians Mitchell, Oh and Kosins will explore creativity during a free workshop for children and youth at McAdams Park Recreation Center, 1329 E. 13th St. Hands-on activities led by the musicians will involve drawing and musical improvisation.

Except for the headliner concert Saturday night, all Jazz Festival events are free.

Since this is the first festival he has organized, Owens doesn’t know quite how this year’s new events will go over. But he said the expanded focus into women and the arts made fundraising easier — a campaign begun in March to raise $8,000 to help cover the festival’s $16,000 budget was successful.

“The fact this is something broader and is sort of a new model for a jazz festival made it actually a lot easier,” to raise money, Owens said. “If I end up doing this in the future, I plan to deal with it thematically and have other things going on rather than just bringing in some musicians who are great.”

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