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

Elkhart Jazz Festival brings jazz to life in the Midwest

Elkhart Jazz Festival

This year marked the 30th anniversary of the Elkhart Jazz Festival, which brings hundreds of musicians and thousands of enthusiasts to this small midwestern town (pop. 51,000) located 110 miles south of Chicago and only 15 miles from South Bend, home to Notre Dame University. A variety of styles ranging from Dixieland to smooth jazz provided choices for all musical tastes. The weekend of June 23-25, 2017 saw Elkhart fill with visitors. The town has long been known as the “Band Instrument Capital of the World” due to it being the headquarters of the Conn-Selmer company (and its many subsidiaries … Read more

Flying high with the Shades of Blue US Air Force Jazz Band

Shades of Blue Jazz Band of the United States Air Force Band of Mid-America

Shades of Blue, the jazz ensemble of the United States Air Force of Mid-America, performed jazz standards, swing and Big Band favorites, and patriotic medleys to close out the 2017 Glenn Miller Festival on June 11, 2017 in Clarinda, Iowa. The final concert of this festival, held annually in the city where Glenn Miller was born in 1904, was presented by the musicians of this ensemble—two trumpets, two trombones, three saxophones, double bass, electric guitar, keyboard, drumset, and female vocalist—who are all enlisted Air Force personnel stationed at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, outside of St. Louis. The musicians also … Read more

Banish the blues with the Blue Beginners Jazz Band

Blue Beginners Jazz Band from Mito (Japan) Technical High School

On June 11, 2017, the Blue Beginners jazz band from Mito Technical High School, Japan performed an afternoon concert as part of the 2017 Glenn Miller Festival in Clarinda, Iowa. The group was making its initial appearance at the festival, playing three concerts over as many days. The student musicians’ energy and enthusiasm in playing jazz and being part of the festival made this concert experience extra special. This was my first time to attend the festival, but every year a group from Japan performs, probably because there is a Japan branch of the Glenn Miller Festival Birthplace Society in … Read more

Glenn Miller Orchestra brings Big Band Sound to Iowa

World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra

The 18 musicians in the Glenn Miller Orchestra hail from all over the US and tour 48 weeks of the year, but for a couple of days in June they entertained a spellbound audience in the town where the orchestra’s namesake spent his early years: Clarinda, Iowa (pop. 5,500). I attended the Saturday, June 10, 2017, performance of this world famous group, and the quality of the musicianship and the “Big Band” sound transported me to musical heaven for a blissful two hours. This year marked the 42nd year of the Glenn Miller Festival, which is run by volunteers and … Read more

Joy of Strings: the 2017 Osklaloosa Music Festival Masterworks Recital

The Lux String Quartet perform at the 2017 Oskaloosa Music Festival

Musicians from Minneapolis-St. Paul and around the US converged in the central Iowa town of Oskaloosa (pop. 11,500) to take part in the annual two-week Music Festival which pairs a string chamber music camp for middle and high schoolers with a series of concerts at venues throughout the city. I attended the Masterworks Recital Program on Saturday evening, June 3, 2017, at the First Presbyterian Church and was treated to a performance of some of the best music written for strings, including selections by Bach, Beethoven, Dvorák, Tchaikovsky, Hindemith, Janácek, and the Danish String Quartet. The Oskaloosa Music Festival (OMF), now in its 8th year, … Read more