No small thing for music lovers: Tine Thing Helseth & Gunnar Flagstad’s Dublin concert

Tine Thing Helseth & Gunnar Flagstad

I recently spent two weeks in Ireland and one of the trip’s highlights was the unexpected opportunity to hear a truly phenomenal trumpet player, Norway’s Tine Thing Helseth, and her accompanist Gunnar Flagstad, on the initial concert of their first tour of Ireland. This October 10, 2017 concert was held in the beautiful stone sanctuary of St. Ann’s Church in Dublin, built in 1720. I learned about this concert only by happenstance: as I entered my hotel in Dublin the evening before I caught a brief glance of ads on a TV screen announcing upcoming concerts in town. I was quite … Read more

Echos of Sparke & Ellington: Luther College Family Day Concerts

The Luther College Jazz Orchestra, Ben Ostrem on tenor sax.

Luther College, a private college in Decorah, Iowa, is home to one of the US’s largest collegiate music programs. The college celebrated Family Weekend September 22-24, 2017, and I attended the Saturday midday performances by the Concert Band and Jazz Orchestra. Concert Band First on the program was the Concert Band, an ensemble of approximately 60 students directed by Joan deAlbequerque. Luther College has three bands, and the Concert Band is the top auditioned band. I’ve always found the musicianship of this ensemble to be top notch. My son, Ben, played euphonium with the group for two years and went … Read more

Fantastic! The 2017 Pentastic Jazz Festival in Penticton, B.C.

2017 Pentastic Jazz Festival in Penticton, British Columbia banner

The weekend of September 8-10 marked the 21st annual Pentastic “Hot Jazz Festival” held in Penticton, British Columbia. This city of 33,000, nestled in the mountains between two lakes, is a vacation destination offering water sports as well as moutain hiking and skiing. There are also many wineries and fruit orchards in this area. The annual jazz festival offered jazz lovers a choice of a dozen bands performing at five venues around the city. A great perk: a fleet of vans driven by friendly volunteers shuttled musicians and festival goers between the various music venues and hotels, a free service … Read more

Jazz-infused at the 2017 Des Moines Jazz Festival

Dartanyan Brown

The 2nd annual Des Moines Jazz Festival was held on September 1-2, 2017 at the Des Moines Social Club in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. The event was characterized by eclectic jazz music performed by local and national musicians and an enthusiastic crowd of various ages. The venue: The Des Moines Social Club The Des Moines Social Club is located downtown and its main building occupies 30,000 square feet of a restored firehouse. The Social Club is a non-profit organization which sponsors classes, trivia nights, and films in addition to musical performances. The club’s other venues include the Prairie Meadows Courtyard … Read more

Here’s to the Hound Dogs on National Dog Day

National Dog Day

Dogs have been a part of my life since I was a child, so it’s only fitting that they have their own day. Certainly you couldn’t ask for better companions, and one characteristic dogs share with musicians is their love of the limelight. Although some dogs might be camera-shy, many are just the opposite and happily ham it up for the lens. (Gracie, my Newfoundland, was happy to pose for the cover photo) “Hound Dog” (1952) –“Big Mama” Thornton As man’s best friend, dogs are the subject of many songs, although one of the most memorable and often recorded tunes, … Read more

Bix Lives! at the 2017 Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival

Hal Smith of Swing Central at the Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival

The 46th annual Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival took place August 3-6 in Davenport, Iowa, hometown of the famous cornet jazz player. The festival offered the opportunity to hear world-class music from some of the best bands in the US and attracted jazz afficianados from foreign countries and most US states. A special highlight of my visit to Davenport was the chance to visit the recently opened Bix Beiderbecke Museum. The festival opened with a free concert Thursday afternoon at the Putnam Museum by the Fat Babies Classic Jazz Band from Chicago. The large room was completely packed with fans … Read more

Follow the Lefse to Decorah’s Nordic Fest

Nordic Fest

On July 27-29, 2017, Decorah, Iowa hosted its annual celebration of all things Norwegian, aka Nordic Fest. I drove up to this city in northeastern Iowa on Saturday, the final day of the festival,  to see what made this celebration special. This year marked the 51st year of the festival, which turns downtown Decorah into a mini version of Norway. Water Street, the main thoroughfare lined with interesting shops and restaurants, is blocked off from vehicular traffic. Booths offer traditional Norwegian foods such as lefse (a potato-flour flatbread cooked on a griddle), kringla (soft buttermilk cookies), rommegrot (porridge made with … Read more

Caught in the web of SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING’s score

Spiderman caught in a web

Last night I saw the movie Spider-Man: Homecoming. I enjoyed the characters and special effects, but what really stayed with me after the movie ended was the music. During the long rolling of credits at the end of the movie, my senses were focused almost entirely on the music. Of course, the heroic Spider-man theme was the rhythm I was humming on the way home, but the other tracks in the score were memorable as well, with soaring woodwinds, throbbing strings, and dramatic percussion sequences. Usually, I’m not consciously thinking about the music while watching a movie, unless it’s to … Read more

Bewitched by Trio Jinx: the 2017 Iowa Great Lakes Music Festival

Trio Jinx performing at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Milford, IA

July 8-9 marked the 4th year of the Iowa Great Lakes Music Festival, founded by conductor and cellist Thomas Fortner to share his love of chamber music with the Lake Okoboji community. Fortner grew up in Texas but visited relatives in this northwestern Iowa vacation spot every summer, so he is well-acquainted with the area and the openness of the residents and vacationers to new musical experiences. Local festival sponsors include the Arts at St. Joseph Catholic Church and the Pearson Lakes Arts Center. Past year’s festivals have featured as guest artists pianists Szy-Ling Wu and Amy Zanrosso, violinists Sean Riley … Read more

Feeling the real groove with John Raymond & Real Feels

John Raymond & Real FeelsJohn Raymond & Real FeelsJohn Raymond & Real FeelsJohn Raymond & Real Feels

The 2017 Iowa City Jazz Festival was held over the weekend of June 30-July 2, 2017, and I enjoyed one of the Sunday afternoon concerts on the Main Stage which was set up in front of the old capitol building in downtown Iowa City. Three other stages scattered around the blocked-off streets offered different musical choices, including a Local Stage spotlighting local area bands. Iowa City is fortunate to offer several parking garages right in the downtown area, so I parked in the Clinton Street garage and walked the short blocks to the Festival area, which was lined with food … Read more