Stories and Interviews
2009 Jass Festival: A Sound by Any Other Name
by Richard Schaan | High Plains Reader | August 13, 2009
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The answer is no, itís not a typo. We didnít misspell jazz in the headline. In fact, it might be misspelled in the preceding sentence. J-A-Z-Z or J-A-S-S? Which is it?
According to the organizer of the 15th Annual Jass Festival, Christopher Hanson, the original spelling was jass, but a quick check through the often murky and unreliable world of Google research reveals that opinions on the origins of the word are more variable than a musicianís improvisational solo (which at least has a tangible base to start from).
Just as Monet didnít say "I think Iíll become an Impressionist" but rather painted a picture titled "Impression, Sunrise" from which a hostile critic coined the term Impressionist, the pioneers of jazz left the naming up to others while they created something worthy of a designation. No matter what spelling we use for that something, what remains paramount is the music, a style that was born in the U.S. but has come to be performed and loved around the world. (Next time you travel abroad, bring a dozen copies of "Kind of Blue" to hand out to the handful of people who wrinkle their face at you for being American. It doesnít quite let us off the hook for W, but itís a start.)
Because jazz is so important to both the history of our nation and the evolution of humans making pretty and/or interesting noise (i.e. music), events like the Jass Festival serve a dual purpose: on the one hand it brings us recreation ó free live music on a summertime Sunday afternoon in the park ó and on the other, it gives the community a chance to learn more about jazz the best way possible ó by listening to it.
Jazz is very alive in America, Hanson said.
The main reason I do this is to showcase the talent we have in this area. People often think of places like Kansas City or New York when they think of jazz, but we have so many excellent young musicians right here in Fargo.
Many of the Jass Festivalís performers are college students, a likely result of the genreís mixture of art music complexity and mini-mass appeal. It may not fill Madison Square Garden every week the way our prefabricated pop icons do, but itís popularity remains constant in a way that ultimately trumps ó on a long enough timeline ó the pretty faces and their frivolous chart toppers. Last yearís Jass Festival drew 300 to 400 people and this yearís crowd is expected to be similar if not larger.
We donít have enough of these outdoor concerts in the summer, Hanson.
The gazebo at Island Park is a perfect spot for it.
Three bands ó all offering a unique jazz experience ó take the stage this Sunday. Opening will be The Nickel Jazz Combo (start time 3 p.m.). Nickel is a clever way of calling the band a quintet as the combo features drums, bass, piano, trombone and saxophone, and they play a variety of the classic jazz standards. Next the show gets a bit more progressive and modern with the Jordan Christianson Trio (3:40 p.m.), an all-rhythm mix of piano, drums and bass. Last and literally not least will be the 19-member Jass Festival Big Band (4:20 p.m.).
The festival is on Sunday, Aug. 16 at the Island Park gazebo in Fargo. It is free and open to all ages. They are, however, asking visitors to bring a canned good to donate to the Fargo-Moorhead Dorothy Day Food Pantry. Visit http://www.thejassfestival.com for more information.