College to host Jazz Fest

Genevieve Randazzo

On May 7 and May 8, Jazz Fest, a triumphant outdoor celebration of jazz hosted by the College for the first time, will take place from 12 to 8:30 p.m. on Paresky steps. Highlighting student and faculty ensembles, the event will also feature guest artists Immanuel Wilkins quartet, Alexa Tarantino, and Jeremy Pelt, and a community tap dancing class with Jenny Herzog.

Lecturer in music and Director of the Jazz Ensemble Kris Allen oversees all six of the jazz ensembles performing this weekend and is responsible for orchestrating this festival. Allen said that the College has not hosted an event like this one during his tenure. “In my nine years here we haven’t done it like this — we haven’t lumped it all together, and made one big event out of it,” Allen said. 

Instead, the jazz department has typically hosted smaller performances, which Allen said attracted small crowds of performers’ friends and entrymates. “I’ve got so many students — upwards of 45 students now involved in jazz ensembles,” Allen said. “I’m trying to create some kind of community among my jazz students. There’s so many of them scattered through these six bands. I want to give them a chance to interact more and hear each other.” 

In the fall, Allen organized Jazzday, which consisted of five concerts by student jazz combos in Baxter and Chapin Hall and a performance by a small band not associated with the College. This served as a successful test run for a full-weekend event. “We had a really good experience, just popping up in Paresky in the fall, and folks who were just there eating lunch stayed and listened,” Allen said. “We wanted to duplicate that feeling a little bit [and] move outside the walls of our music building.” 

Jazz Fest will be a larger, outdoor activity that will be more visible and accessible to students and the larger Williamstown community. “It’s going to be out in front of people,” Allen said. “That does make a difference. Just like, ‘Here’s some music in your face.’” 

Jazz at Williams is a student club dedicated to organizing performances and spaces for student jazz musicians in concert with the music department. Its President, Noah Jacobson ’22, reflected on how the music department is seeking to gather a larger audience. “I think that’s been a real focus of the music department, in general. We’re trying to get as many people as possible to come to our performances,” Jacobson said. “Even if we have to do things outdoors, we’re publicizing them and bringing food or snacks so that people really want to show up.” 

Jacobson has participated in jazz throughout his four years at the College. He said that participating in jazz as a first-year was thrilling and he was excited to be involved in subsequent years after getting to know other musicians and professors. The spring of his sophomore year proved to be difficult due to the pandemic with final performances recorded from home. Junior year, too, was challenging despite the ability to play music in-person alongside other students, an essential element of concerts that was lost during the pandemic. “We were playing to an empty room so that it could go on YouTube and it was just the worst,” Jacobson said. This year, Jacobson was involved in arranging some of the guest artists for Jazz Fest, such as Immanuel Wilkins Quartet.

Jazz Fest this year comes in stark contrast to the virtual and hybrid performances of recent years. Jacobson noted that student musicians “appreciated that we had a platform at all,” but are thrilled that jazz music is “coming back with such a triumphant return to live performance this year.” 

Jacobson said that one of the highlights of this spring has been the abundance of outdoor performances and the energy attending student shows. Jacobson noted a shift in the attitudes of students from his first year at the College to now. “I think there’s a renewed energy around it,” he said. “Every single performance group on campus is getting a renewed level of attention,” Jacobson said. “Not just the freshman class, but everyone [has] been missing that for a year or two. And so we want to do everything we can to be there for all of it. I’m just super excited that we have that platform for jazz.”