When the Frank Mantooth Jazz Festival comes to New Trier High School on February 8, participants can expect the kind of format that has made this a beloved event for 37 years.
“Jim Warrick, the former New Trier jazz director, started this festival in 1984 because he believed that young jazz students should hear the very best professional big bands for themselves,” says Mark Hiebert, Interim Director of Jazz Bands. “But he also wanted to provide an experience that encouraged them to pursue their own study of this music.”
In keeping with tradition, students from 35 schools will gather in a non-competitive setting for an entire day of jam sessions, clinics, and the opportunity to perform on a main stage in front of peers and jazz enthusiasts.
But what makes this year’s festival different— intentional or not— is that it will also underscore the contributions of female performers to the genre.
One can’t help but wonder if jazz critic and historian George T. Simon—who, in 1967, infamously said, “Only God can make a tree, and only men can play good jazz”—would have come around on his views, had he lived to see the music scene today. Women in the jazz world have not only made a dent in the brass ceiling; they’ve blown right through it.
This year’s event is proof. The headlining guest is the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, an all-female 15-piece big band from New York, which is making its third appearance in the festival’s history. (The only other ensemble with multiple performances is the Count Basie Orchestra.) Members of the band will host special 50-minute master classes for saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and rhythm section players.
And for the third consecutive year, the festival will feature a “Women in Jazz” dinner, complete with a Q&A session, for its female participants. Last year attracted more than 140 young musicians, as well as a panel of six professionals from around the country, for more than an hour of conversation and inspiration.
Of course, the schedule also includes plenty of exciting opportunities for jazz lovers of any gender. As 50 student performances take place throughout the day, there will be concerts by Matt Ulery’s Loom (a critically- acclaimed Chicago quintet) and the University of Illinois Jazz Band. Sight reading sessions, divided by junior high and high school levels, will be available to all participants. And special clinics that focus on arranging techniques and New Orleans brass band music will be held.
The festival will conclude with a 7:30 p.m. concert at Gaffney Auditorium, starting with New Trier’s Jazz Ensemble 1, and followed by the DIVA Jazz Orchestra. Tickets for evening concert are $35.
For more information, visit ntjazz.com.