Although much of Iowa experienced flooding rainstorms during and after Labor Day weekend 2018, the 3rd annual Des Moines Jazz Festival went ahead as planned to enthusiastic audiences. The festival, a collaboration between the Civic Music Association and the Des Moines Social Club, was scheduled to take place in the outside courtyard of the DMSC as in the past two years.
The DMSC is housed in a former fire station in downtown Des Moines, so it offers interesting architecture as well as free weekend parking in a parking garage next door.
The Club hosted a graffiti festival right before the jazz festival, so the outer walls were freshly decorated by artists from all over.
The festival opened Friday night, August 31st, with performances by NOLA Jazz Band, Grand Ave Ruckus, and the Bobby Watson Quartet. Unfortunately, thunderstorms kept me from attending this night’s performances, although I heard there were big crowds, especially for headliner Bobby Watson.
On Saturday performances were again moved indoors, and the Johnston High School jazz band opened the day’s festivities. These young performers played some great jazz standards, and each student had an opportunity to solo during their hour-long set.
The next group to perform was The Undertones, led by Cole Peterson (playing saxophone, below). This quartet, from the Des Moines area, played some original pieces as well as some jazz classics.
The Heath Alan Band took the stage around 5:00 pm. Des Moines’ own Heath Alan, on tenor and alto sax as well as vocals, led his group on some original pieces plus jazz fusion favorites. I enjoyed the trumpet player as well as the guitarist.
Violinist Christian Howes, who now lives in Columbus, Ohio after spending many years in New York City, wowed the crowd with gypsy jazz tunes and originals. His back-up musicians were superb. I spoke to him after his performance and he said it was the first time any of the group had played together (in fact, I saw him giving the drummer, who also played with Heath Alan, the music just before the set started).
The headliner on Saturday was the all-female Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band. To my regret, I had to leave before this performance because of the weather (and still I got caught in a major thunderstorm on the drive east; lesson learned–book a hotel if weather looks iffy!). I’ve read tons of good reviews about this band, so I’ll make a point to hear them in the future.
You can’t beat the price of the Des Moines Jazz Festival: $25 for both days (or do as I did and volunteer for free entry). If the line-up of nationally-recognized musicians continues in future years, I expect the crowds to just get bigger!