Wynton Marsalis to star in April JazzTown 2000

The Williamstown Chamber of Commerce and Williams College Department of Music unveiled the schedule of the JazzTown 2000 Festival on Tuesday, Jan. 11 at the Faculty Club. The second annual installment of the festival will run the weekend of April 4-9 and will be greatly expanded in scope from last year’s successful festival.

Andrew Pilston of the Chamber of Commerce promised that the festival will be “bigger, better and bolder” than the previous year’s, which featured a concert by the Mingus Big Band as its centerpiece. This year’s headliner will be the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, featuring Wynton Marsalis. Perhaps the most well-known and certainly one of the most talented big bands in the country, the Orchestra will bring a troupe of swing dancers as part of its program, “For Dancers Only.” The appearance at JazzTown marks the first stop on a national tour for Marsalis and the group.

The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra’s presence with swing dancers in tow sets the stage for a week of collaboration across all aspects of performance art. Sandra Burton, coordinator of Dance at the College, put together a program that will focus on jazz dance. A week of dance workshops will feature internationally known dancer Doretha “Mickey” Davidson and the 85 year-old creator of the Lindy Hop, Frankie Manning.

Other performers include the internationally renowned and preeminent gospel group The Boyer Brothers, who will perform Jan. 7 at St. John’s Church. Later in the evening, the Billy Taylor Trio with Sheila Jordan will perform in Chapin; the concert will be recorded for broadcast by National Public Radio. The concert series will continue on the following evening with trumpeter Tom Harrell and his quintet. Harrell has been ranked the number one jazz trumpet player by Downbeat magazine and was described by Jazz Ensemble Director Andy Jaffe as “a musician’s musician.”

Jazztown 2000 will not only be expanded in terms of the depth of performers, but also in the geographic range of the festival. Bill Wilson of the Berkshire Visitor’s Bureau explained that one goal of the festival is to raise the cultural profile of the Berkshires. Wilson explained his desire to advertise the Berkshires as a “premier cultural resort.”

For the purposes of the JazzTown Festival, this means that performances will be spread throughout the area. As with last year, smaller alumni groups will play at Williamstown restaurants, and there will also be a lecture/dance class taught by Manning and Davidson at the Clark Art Institute.

The festival headliners are perhaps most affected by the drive to expand the festival’s public visibility. While the Mingus Big Band played to a capacity crowd at Chapin Hall last year, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra will be playing its Sunday afternoon concert at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams. In addition to improving venue cultural visibility in the region, this shift in venue also offers better logistics for the big band and their troupe of swing dancers, as well as providing a space for audience members to join in with the dancing.

Stuart Shatken of the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce responded to concerns that an off-campus location might alienate the Williams College community from the festival, noting that plans have been made to run free transportation between the College and MASS MoCA. In addition, between 250 and 300 of the venue’s 600 seats have been reserved for Williams students, faculty and staff.

Despite the large scope of this year’s festival, Lyell B. Clay Artist-in-Residence in Jazz Andy Jaffe admonished the assembled crowd of reporters and faculty to not lose sight of the original goal of the weekend as an “intercollegiate jazz festival.” Jaffe stressed the importance of non-competitive aspect of the festival, which he sees as important in “building a community among the musicians.”

Colleges from all across the Northeast will descend upon Williams over the course of the weekend, where they will play throughout the day on Friday and Saturday. Each group will play for approximately twenty minutes and will then be given a short clinic by their adjudicators, saxophonist/educator David Dempsey and internationally renowned bassist Joris Teepe.

This year’s festival not only has a wider scope than last year, but the depth of talent also is even greater. While last year’s JazzTown was quite successful, this a more ambitious undertaking, with the addition of dance and gospel performances, workshops, lectures and clinics. For those directly involved with the music, as well as the casual music lover, this weekend promises to be one of the highlights of the Spring semester.

JazzTown 2000 events run from April 4 to April 8, 2000. Tickets for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra will go on sale for Williams students, faculty and staff on Feb. 3, in the office of Concert Manager Ernie Clark in the Bernhard Music Building. Tickets are $20 with valid college ID. There is a limit of two tickets per person, as demand is high and seating limited. More information on all acts can be found at www.WilliamstownJazz.com.

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