by Parth Upadhyaya
This year marks the end of an era for jazz studies at the UNC Department of Music. And the Carolina Jazz Festival at the end of February is yet another reminder of that.
The 43rd annual Carolina Jazz Festival will take place from Thursday, Feb. 20, to Saturday, Feb. 22. Jim Ketch, the department’s director of jazz studies and the man who created the first Carolina Jazz Festival, will lead the festival for the final time before he retires this summer.
“It is special because UNC is showcased over a long weekend,” Ketch said. “Our jazz students get great opportunities to be mentored by veteran pro jazz artists. … We further establish the vitality of our jazz studies program and our department of music.”
That vitality has been built, in no small part, out of the success of the Carolina Jazz Festival.
As department chair Allen Anderson put it: “Over the 40 years that it’s been in existence and the years that Jim Ketch has been a member of the department, what looks now as an established part of academia — that music in the academy — has classical music, it has jazz, too. Forty years ago, that wasn’t the case.”
Both the jazz studies program and the festival have seen tremendous growth over the past 43 years of Ketch’s tenure at UNC. The jazz studies area now offers both jazz band and combos opportunities and private lessons in a variety of jazz instruments. Similarly, the festival is now a packed three days of concerts, workshops, and competitions.
This year, it will open Thursday, Feb. 20, with a performance from UNC Jazz Combos, featuring guest artists Steve Wilson (alto sax) and Dave Stryker (guitar), at 7:30 p.m. in Hill Hall’s Moeser Auditorium.
Friday, Feb. 21, features an open rehearsal with the UNC Jazz Band and Ketch, along with Wilson and Stryker, from 1:25 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. in Kenan Music Building Room 1201. The two guest artists will also host a workshop on combo playing and improvisation the same day from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Moeser Auditorium.
To cap off Friday night, Ketch’s UNC Jazz Band will share the stage with Wilson and Stryker from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Moeser Auditorium. The Scholarship Benefit Concert will cost $10.
“I have had Steve and Dave to campus before as guests, and they are simply special,” Ketch said. “They are consummate artists (and) teachers, and I know this group of students will greatly enjoy the time they spend with Steve and Dave.”
Most of Saturday is dedicated to the North Carolina Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Festival, an event in which several high school jazz bands and combos from across North Carolina participate in performances, competitions and post-performance clinics with national artists. This year’s event, which features 13 jazz bands and 11 combos, will run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Moeser Auditorium and Kenan Music Building Room 1201.
“The Carolina Jazz Festival and UNC Summer Jazz Workshop have served as outstanding recruiting tools for the department of music,” said Stephen Anderson, a professor of music and composition within the department’s jazz studies area.
Stephen Anderson, one of the adjudicators for the Carolina Jazz Festival, continued: “I don’t think that many of my colleagues outside of the jazz studies area realize how many students are recruited into the department through these two community outreach initiatives.”
The festival will conclude Saturday night with a headliner concert by the Maria Schneider Orchestra at 8 p.m. in Memorial Hall. Student tickets are $10, while other tickets start at $27.
“I’m very excited about the orchestra,” said Allen Anderson. “… I’m used to having people come who are soloists, but to have somebody come whose job is to present that big painted picture using sound is very exciting.”
Ketch’s upcoming retirement, in combination with this month’s Carolina Jazz Festival, has resulted in more interview requests than he’s used to. The Daily Tar Heel, the UNC General Alumni Association and others have all reached out in recent weeks.
Though he’s never been a fan of basking in the limelight, Ketch can’t help but be proud of what the Carolina Jazz Festival has accomplished.
“We have brought dozens of great artists to campus,” he said, “and we have deeply and significantly impacted thousands of high school musicians.”
Most important, though, Allen Anderson said this year’s festival serves as a time to reflect on the impact Ketch has had on the UNC Department of Music as a whole.
“He’s a model for the indefatigable personality who is able to put in all the hours to make these things happen,” Allen Anderson said. “And I mean, all the hours. It’s a lot. He’s a workhorse, and he’s accomplishing things because he sets the standard for himself and for other people.”
To learn more about the 43rd Carolina Jazz Festival, visit our festival page.