The Ohio State University School of Music’s Jazz Studies Department presents the 41st annual OSU Jazz Festival March 21st through March 25th. The festival schedule boasts five concerts, headlined by a “Charlie Parker With Strings” event on Saturday the 24th at 8pm featuring an astounding group of saxophonists – Donald Harrison, J.D. Allen, Michael Cox, Pete Mills – performing with The Ohio State Symphony Orchestra and the Ohio Jaztet faculty ensemble, with OSU Professor Emeritus Dr. Ted McDaniel as special guest speaker, in tribute to Parker’s milestone orchestral recording. Tickets for Saturday’s concert are available here. Admission is free and open to the public to all other events, which include four master classes led by festival guest artists, College Jazz Band Day on Saturday, and High School Jazz Band Day on Sunday. All events will be held in the Weigel Hall Auditorium on campus. Director of Jazz Studies, festival organizer and saxophonist Shawn “Thunder” Wallace was kind enough to talk to me last week about this year’s festival and its exciting events. Keep reading to learn more.
What is most exciting to you about the tradition of the OSU Jazz Festival?
Shawn Wallace (SW): I have an interesting relationship with the festival because, when I was 19, I was actually a guest artist at the festival [invited by the former director of Jazz Studies, Dr. Ted McDaniel]. I’ve been invited to the festival as a guest artist, but now I’m also running the festival and booking acts, so it’s an interesting turn of events. For this year’s festival in particular, “Charlie Parker With Strings” is the kind of thing I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time and it worked out well this year. We have a new orchestra director, and he’s with us a guest conductor this year, his name’s David Becker. He’s a pretty progressive guy. So this summer, when I found out that he was going to be with us, I thought “Hey, this might be the opportunity to do something collaborative with the Orchestra and the Jaztet.” So I was really excited that he was all in and super excited about it, so that’s very cool. Over the years we’ve had some really great festivals with some tremendous artists. So, the quality of the festival and being involved now is particularly rewarding.
What can you tell me about The Ohio Show Band, which you direct?
SW: The Ohio Show Band is in its second year. We produce a tour quality show, so it’s bang, bang, bang, like if you were going to see a big pop artist, as far as it being about the show. Obviously it’s about the music, but as far as the continuity of the show, it’s got so many of the elements you would see in a big touring show. We use in-ear monitors and we’re playing with a production sequence – it’s a pretty cool thing. I thought it was important for our students to have that kind of experience, because when you get out into the real world, you need to have the kind of experience that will get you a leg up on the competition.
Does the Show Band attract students beyond the Jazz Studies department?
SW: It does. Understand my thoughts on what we call “jazz”: When a student is pursuing a degree in Jazz Studies, it’s not limited to bebop or hard bop or early jazz or something like that. It actually is a degree that prepares the student for jazz-influenced styles of music. As we know, that’s everything. All pop music, rock, R&B, gospel, contemporary Christian, bluegrass, hip-hop – Anything that has a back-beat has been influenced by jazz. I would also make the argument that all modern classical music and composers have been influenced by jazz. So it really has a wide influence. So the Show Band, as being part of the Jazz Festival, although we’re playing the styles of music I mentioned, it’s actually very appropriate because of the influence on that kind of music. It wouldn’t sound that way without the influence of jazz. [NOTE: The Ohio Show Band presents a Motown Revue with guest vocalist Quan Howell on Thursday the 22nd at 8pm – more details here.]
What can you tell me about Quincy Davis, who you and the Jaztet will be playing with Friday?
SW: Quincy Davis is a terrific drummer. We went to the same school, Western Michigan University, so I’ve got a long history with him. After he graduated from Western, he moved to New York and began touring with Tom Harrell, who he toured with for five years. He’s played with everybody, everybody, everybody. He’s a fine composer, arranger, drummer and teacher. He just got the Assistant Professor of Jazz Drum Set job at University of North Texas. He’s a special kind of dude, very musical – he comes from a musical family. It’s going to be very exciting. [NOTE: Quincy Davis performs with the Ohio Jaztet on Friday the 23rd at 8pm – more details here.]
What can you tell me about composer and OSU alum Ladd McIntosh and his music?
SW: He was pursuing his degrees at Ohio State when the Jazz Festival and the Jazz Studies Program were in their infancy, so he’s got a long history of being around the festival, so to speak. He’s a fine composer and arranger. For this concert, it’s obviously a lot of big band charts. They are influenced by what you would expect a good big band writer to be influenced by, someone that is as experienced as he is. [NOTE: The Ohio State University Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Kris Keith, presents “The Music of Ladd McIntosh,” with McIntosh as guest composer/director; and appearances by alumni Wes Orr, trumpet, and Byron Rooker, woodwinds, of the award-winning 1967 OSU Jazz Workshop Band, on Sunday the 25th at 6pm – more details here.]
How do you think your students and festival attendees benefit from up-close exposure to world class musicians via master classes?
SW: One thing that I wanted to do with the festival when I took over as director three years ago was I wanted us to have more of an “Artist in Residency” kind of vibe. I wanted our students to be able to have closer and more deliberate interaction with the guest artists we bring in. So all of these master classes that we have are for that purpose. The other reason I wanted to have a lot of master classes, really quality master classes that we do a better job of marketing and everything, is because it’s a recruiting opportunity. It’s an opportunity for us to say, “All of our master classes are open to the public, they’re all free. We’d like people from the community to feel comfortable being here, to feel invited and welcomed.” I think it’s part of our civil responsibility to share what it is we’ve been given. [NOTE: Guest artists Rusty Burge, Quincy Davis, J.D. Allen and Donald Harrison will lead master classes in this year’s festival – Schedule and details are available here.]
Do you have anything else to add for readers thinking about attending the festival?
SW: Again, almost all of our concerts and all of our activities are free. The only one that is not free is the “Charlie Parker With Strings” concert on Saturday. We’re excited about the festival, and we think that we a really great lineup this year. Our students are super excited about what we’re doing, the faculty is excited about what we’re doing, and we just want to keep spreading the word about this great music.
For more information on this year’s lineup, visit the festival website.