WSU performers prepare for Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival

Performers include Big Bands I and II, solo musicians, vocal jazz ensemble



From left, Graham Dechter, Dave Hagelganz and Kevin Kanner, the All-Star Quartet, play at the 2016 Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival.

BLAINE ROSS, Evergreen reporter

If there is one form of music that represents America as a whole, it is jazz. In New Orleans after World War I, great musicians like Jelly Roll Morton, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and many more developed jass music, an American art form that would eventually turn into the genre we know today as jazz.

Jazz wasn’t always the prestigious art form it is today.  It was originally dance music. Much like the popular music of today, it’s sole purpose was to entertain an audience and make the listener want to dance. This was decades before the time of artists like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck, who transformed the music into the classic art form it is today.

One musician who had such an impact on the music scene was Lionel Hampton. As a composer, pianist, actor and percussionist, specifically a vibraphone player, he contributed greatly to the jazz scene and the future of music.

In 1984, Hampton performed in Moscow at the UI Jazz Festival. He saw the emphasis on music education and pledged his support to the festival from then on. In 1985, the festival was named after him, going from the UI Jazz Festival to the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival.

His influence on jazz and contemporary music was so profound that in 1987, UI’s School of Music was renamed the Lionel Hampton School of Music.

Changing that name made history by making the Lionel Hampton School of Music the first and only academic institution to be named after a jazz musician.

For those who don’t know, here in Pullman and at WSU, jazz is a big deal. With recording groups like Gator Tail and The Jazz Wires, and the jazz scene at Rico’s, Etsi Bravo and Moscow’s Bucer’s Coffee House Pub, jazz on the Palouse is alive and well.

WSU also has a history of success at the festival. In 2017, WSU Big Band I, directed by Brian Ward, won the College Large Ensemble. WSU Big Band II received an honorable mention, and WSU alumnus David Berry was a solo winner for his piano performance.

Students from WSU will be competing in this competition again this year. WSU performers include the Jazz Wires, the WSU latin band, Big Bands I and II, vocal jazz ensemble God’s Harmony, a handful of solo musicians, jazz combos,

Preparing for such an event takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. This is something Big Band Director Alison Poteracke and her band members know well. Poteracke is a second-year graduate student who will be completing her degree this semester. She will then work toward obtaining a doctorate of musical arts with hopes of becoming a teacher.

As the director, Poteracke chooses the repertoire for the ensemble to showcase the band’s strengths and contrasting styles. Then she helps the ensemble realize the stylistic characteristics of each piece, she said.

“Hampton is an incredible jazz festival with a tremendous reputation,” Poteracke said. “Preparing for a festival like this takes hard work and determination from the ensemble.”

She said the festival is an impactful experience for the ensemble. The performers will get the experience of performing jazz literature for a panel of adjudicators who then provide feedback about each piece, she said. They will also attend a clinic.

Freshman landscape architecture major Carmen Bachofen agrees with her director.

“I have never played in Hampton,” Bachofen said. “I am most excited to perform with such a talented ensemble on a bigger stage.”

She discussed some of the difficulties and benefits that come with being in the band.

“I can only practice with the band once a week so I focus a lot on making sure my part is super solid and ready,” Bachofen said. “Playing in the Big Band is such a fun and rewarding experience. Getting to play with great friends and play good music, there’s nothing better.”

This year’s concert headliners include The Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival Big Band, a Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley tribute, distinguished trumpeter Tanya Darby, Grammy-nominated group Joey Defrancesco + The People and more.

The concert will take place Friday and Saturday at the University of Idaho’s Lionel Hampton School of Music in Moscow.