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

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

A Brass Salute: The Eastern Iowa Brass Band’s Memorial Day Concert

The Eastern Iowa Brass Band performs on Memorial Day 2017

The sun shone brightly and strong prairie winds whipped the edges of the stage bunting on Memorial Day, May 29, 2017, as the Eastern Iowa Brass Band (EIBB) performed a free concert on the grounds of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa, only 10 miles from Iowa City. The crowd, a varied mixture of families and older couples, sat in lawn chairs facing the stage, which ingeniously pulled out from a large trailer. The EIBB, which bills itself as “Iowa’s only British-styled brass band”, is a 35-member all volunteer ensemble. In order to get that mellow … Read more

“Summon the Heroes” to Luther College’s Commencement Weekend Concerts

Luther College Concert Band

On May 20, 2017 I attended Luther College’s Music Showcase II, part of Commencement weekend at the campus in northeast Iowa. This program featured the Concert Band followed by the Jazz Orchestra. (Note: Videotaping by the audience was not allowed, so I have included music and videos from alternate sources. The college did videotape the concert which can be found here, and it is well worth watching, but be advised that the music doesn’t start until about 13 minutes into the recording). Conductor Joan de Albuquerque explained that the Concert  Band would be playing for the Commencement ceremony the next day … Read more

Buzzing around Decorah, named Iowa’s “Best Hippie Town”

Main Street Decorah Iowa

I’ve made the trek to the northeastern Iowa city of Decorah (pop. 8,000) many times in the last few years, but it was only recently that I realized I was visiting the hippie mecca of the state, at least according to the website Thrillist. The hipster gurus at this website said their determination was based on these factors: the city’s widespread beekeeping, the Oneota Community Food Cooperative, its two breweries—Toppling Goliath and Pulpit Rock—and Luther College, the local private college with a strong arts program. Having spent many hours in Decorah due to two sons attending college at Luther, I can attest to … Read more

Spring it on, Des Moines Botanical Garden!

Approach to the Des Moines Botanical Garden

Take a break from the hustle and bustle of Iowa’s capital city to enjoy the natural wonders hidden within the geodesic dome and walled gardens of the Des Moines Botanical Garden. The Des Moines’ downtown area has plenty to offer the casual visitor, even on a Sunday afternoon when government offices and many businesses are closed. This past Mother’s Day I found myself in the city with time to spare before a symphony concert at the Civic Center, so I was able to explore the Springtime offerings at the Des Moines Botanical Garden. It was only my second visit to the … Read more