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Jazzing it Up

Jazz Festival mixes professional, student musicians

Grace Kelly visits EIU Friday, Feb. 8

More than 450 Illinois middle school and high school students will get the chance to sharpen their jazz skills with professionals and educators at the 54th Annual Jazz Festival this weekend at Eastern.

The festival will kick off Friday night with a public concert by visiting artist Grace Kelly, who will play with the EIU Jazz Ensemble and her own quintet at 7:30 p.m. in the Dvorak Concert Hall of the Doudna Fine Arts Center.

Sam Fagaly, director of jazz studies and conductor of the EIU Jazz Ensemble, said junior high and high school students representing 22 different schools across Illinois will participate in workshops and competitions throughout the day Saturday.

“High school students will be able to interact with world-class musicians up-close and personal,” Fagaly said.

Music graduate student Steve Kaiser said the students who attend the festival come from areas ranging from the Chicago suburbs to small towns, so each student brings to the table a different experience with music education.

Check This Out!

We had a chance to ask Grace Kelly a few questions before her Friday show. Here's what she had to say!


Now in his sixth year with the festival, Kaiser said the festival does benefit high school students, but it also allows aspiring teachers at Eastern to meet music educators that are doing wonderful things with music education.

Jazz educators and professionals will lead clinics with students starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, giving comments and suggestions on improvements to help develop students' skills. During the competition portion of the festival, educators will judge the middle school and high school students according to their school sizes.

“Each band will perform three songs to the judges, and then the judges will offer suggestions, and introduce them to new music and musicians or new concepts to broaden their horizons,” Kaiser said.

The young professional featured in Friday's concert -- Grace Kelly, a 20-year-old saxophonist, singer, composer and arranger -- is a high-profile artist known for her creativity and originality. Kelly has performed more than 500 concerts all around the world, and she has been included Glamour magazine's “Top 10 College Women," taken top honors four times at the ASCAP Foundation’s Young Jazz Composers Awards, and twice won "Jazz Artist of the Year" at the Boston Music Awards.

Kelly will be an inspiration to students because of her youth and her passion for the genre, Fagaly said.

“Her style is a combination of the mainstream jazz, but she also brings in modern influences, too,” Fagaly said.

Kaiser, who is part of EIU Jazz Ensemble, said he is looking forward to hearing and performing with such a well-known musician. Some arrangements she'll perform with the EIU Jazz Ensemble on Friday are “Frankie and Johnny” and “My Foolish Heart."

Tickets for the concert are $10 the general public and $5 for students. For tickets, call 217-581-3110 or visit www.doudnatix.com.

Q&A Session with Grace Kelly

Others have described your style as a combination of mainstream jazz paired with modern influences. How would you describe your style?

  • I think that is a good representation. My style is a combination of traditional jazz meshed with pop and contemporary music. I like to think of myself as a sponge -- a music fusion master. Somebody gave me that name, and I think it describes me.

As a young musician, what drew you to jazz? Why did you chose what some call a “dying genre” over other genres?

  • When I was little, I started playing on the piano and listened to Frank Sinatra. In the fourth grade, I picked the clarinet, because my school would not allow students to start off with the saxophone. It was a silly rule, but I started to take saxophone lessons in private. I realized I do not like playing with notes on a sheet, but I loved to make up my own. I loved the improvisation of jazz.

What are the names of the members of your quintet?

  • My quintet consists of Jason Palmer, trumpet; Jordan Perlson, drummer; Pete McCann, guitarist; and Evan Gregor on bass.

The concert on Friday is kicking off a jazz festival with clinics and workshops for high school and middle school students. What advice would you give to young middle school and high school jazz students?

  • It is important for students to pick an instrument that fits them and to find their voice. For example, the trumpet would never be right for me. Also students should take music seriously and do not have to start off with “Hot Cross Buns.” Students should pick their instrument up every day and understand they have to practice.

Where do you see your career going from here?

  • I want to make the younger generation excited about jazz. It is a great art form and a great genre.

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