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Background on School of Music's 2004 Jazz Festival

The University of Michigan School of Music’s 2004 Jazz Festival will celebrate the centennial anniversary of Count Basie Feb. 14-15 at various locations on the U-M campus and Ann Arbor.

Here is some background on Count Basie, who died in 1984, and some of the festival participants:

COUNT BASIE—Born Aug. 21, 1904 in New Jersey, William Basie, later to be dubbed “Count,” wanted to play the drums. But competition at this instrument from his boyhood friend, Sonny Greer, helped him choose the piano.

In the 1920's, like many young jazz musicians of the time, Basie left New Jersey for Harlem where there was always an opening somewhere for a person with talent.After playing with several bands in the New York area and across the country in road shows, Basie ended up in Kansas City where the Count Basie Band began to form. It was there that a radio announcer gave Basie his new name of “Count” to compete with other bandleaders such as Duke Ellington.

The Basie band, although starting in Kansas City, appeared in such places as the Roseland Ballroom in New York, the Savoy Ballroom and the Apollo Theater. Today many musicians consider Count Basie's band to be the model for "ensemble rhythmic conception and tonal balance." During the 1930's, the band's lightness and precision set the tone for modern jazz accompanying style. Basie himself perfected a piano style called comping. Comping refers to the syncopated and highly precise style of playing cords. Accompanying pianists would use this style of play for the next thirty years.

Along with the Count Basie Band’s contributions to the jazz style, the band also served to launch many careers. These include tenor saxophonist Lester Young, trumpeter Buck Clayton, trumpeter-composer Thad Jones, bassist Walter Page, drummer Jo Jones, and many others.

Count Basie died April 26, 1984 in Hollywood, Florida.

HANK JONES—“When you listen to a pianist, each note should have an identity, each note should have a soul of its own,” festival director Dennis Wilson quotes Jones, a recipient of the NEA Jazz Masters Award. “For nearly six decades Jones has taken his own words to heart, playing every one of his notes with a unique and deeply personal style.”

Born in 1918 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Jones grew up in Pontiac, Mich., in a family rich with musical talent. Actively encouraged to play music by their parents, Hank is the oldest of the famous Jones brothers. His younger brother was the bandleader, composer/arranger, Thad Jones. The “baby” of the family, drummer Elvin Jones, was the polyrhythmic force behind John Coltrane’s classic quartet.

Jones began gigging in Detroit in his teens and moved to New York City in 1943 to play with Oran "Hot Lips" Page. He quickly became a staple of the jazz scene, and while performing with artists such as Coleman Hawkins and Billy Eckstine, helped define what was called the Detroit piano school, which also includes Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris and Sir Roland Hanna.

During his diverse career, Jones has accompanied stars such as Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker and Lester Young. He joined CBS as a pianist in the 50's and appeared on countless television programs including the Ed Sullivan Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, and the Andy Williams Show. From 1979 to 1982 Jones was the conductor and pianist for the Broadway hit “Ain't Misbehavin'”. 'Since the mid-70s he has continued to work in various jazz contexts, as soloist, as duettist with Tommy Flanagan, George Shearing and other pianists, as accompanist to singers and instrumentalists, and as leader of his own small groups Jones has two Grammy nominations and was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1997.

THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER—This group made its first recording, the self-titled "Manhattan Transfer" featuring "Operator," a fifties gospel tune. That recording reached no. 22 on the Billboard chart and was their first hit. They were hard to categorize. "Cabaret Rock" or "Disco Sha Na Na" were some of the labels attached to them. For more than 30 years they have combined their voices into an incomparable four-part harmony that has consistently set new standards for vocal music. Spanning 20 albums, Manhattan Transfer has earned a total of eight Grammy Awards and worldwide sales in the millions.

Since its inception, The Manhattan Transfer has refused to limit itself to one type of music. "Our signature is clearly four-part harmony," says member Tim Hauser. "We based our voicings on the structure of the sax section of the Count Basie Band—blending soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices." The Manhattan Transfer was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998.

DENNIS WILSON—Wilson, a U-M assistant professor of music and festival director, joined the Michigan faculty in 2000, having taught previously at Kansas State University where he also served as an assistant dean for the College of Arts and Sciences. He has a significant association with the legendary Count Basie and his Orchestra that began in 1977 as trombonist and arranger. He continues to serve as musical production manager and educational director with the Basie Band.

Wilson is the lead trombonist for the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra and has toured, performed, and/or recorded with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, the New Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, the American Jazz Orchestra, the Benny Carter Orchestra and Slide Hampton’s World of Trombones. He received a Grammy Award nomination for vocal arrangements for Manhattan Transfer and has performed on Grammy Award winning recordings with Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and Diane Schurr. In 2001, Dennis Wilson was named Artist in Resident for the San Jose Jazz Society and serves as musical director for the new San Jose Jazz Society Big Band.

DAVID JACKSON—Jackson, a U-M assistant professor of music, is a soloist, chamber and orchestral musician who has performed with the Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Fort Worth and New World symphonies, the Cabrillo Music Festival Orchestra and the Spoleto, Italy Festival Orchestra. He is an advocate of new music and has commissioned and performed the premieres of eight works for trombone. His chamber music experience includes performances with the Canadian Brass, the American Brass Quintet, Nexus Percussion Ensemble and the Galliard Brass Ensemble. His summers are spent teaching and performing at the Hot Springs Music Festival and the Interlochen Arts Camp All-State Division. He has served on the faculties of Baylor University, Eastern Michigan University and The University of Toledo. Jackson received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Michigan.

ELLEN ROWE—Rowe, a U-M associate professor of music, is a jazz pianist and composer, and graduate of the Eastman School of Music. Prior to her appointment at Michigan, she served a director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut. Winner of the Hartford Advocate Reader's Poll for Best Acoustic Jazz, Rowe has performed at jazz clubs and on concert series throughout the U.S. and has toured in Europe and Australia. Also active as a clinician, she has given workshops and master classes at the Melbourne Conservatory, the Hochschule für Music in Cologne, and the Royal Academy of Music in London in addition to many appearances as a guest artist at festivals and universities around the country.

When not leading her own trio, Rowe is in demand as a collaborator, having performed with a wide variety of jazz artists including Kenny Wheeler, Gene Bertoncini, Tom Harrell, John Clayton, Harvie Swartz and Jiggs Whigham and has been a guest on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz on NPR. Rowe's compositions and arrangements have been performed and recorded by jazz ensembles and orchestras around the world, including the Village Vanguard Orchestra, U.S. Navy Commodores, Eastman Jazz Ensemble, Manhattan School of MusicJazz Ensemble, Berlin and NDR Radio Jazz Orchestras, London Symphony, DIVA and the Perth Jazz Orchestra.

DONALD WALDEN—Walden, a U-M associate professor of music, is a saxophonist/composer who joined the U-M faculty in 1995 after three years teaching at Oberlin conservatory. He studied at the Larry Teal School of Music, Steed College, and Detroit Community Music School. Walden’s performance credits include Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Shaw, Barry Harris and Geri Allen. International performances include festivals in France, Italy, Australia, Holland and Finland. Walden has been the recipient of three Creative Artist Grants, Economic Development and Arts Organization Grants from the Michigan Council of Arts and, as founder and artistic director of the Detroit Jazz Orchestra, he received the First Annual (Michigan) Governor’s Arts Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts. Walden was the King-Chavez-Parks visiting Scholar at Michigan State University in 1991–92 and is a 1996 recipient of the Arts MidWest Jazz Master Award. His most recent CD is entitled “A Monk and A Mingus Among Us.”

U-M DEPARTMENT OF JAZZ & IMPROVISATION STUDIES—Art forms evolve through the interplay of two contrasting, yet complementary forces—the ongoing quest for new possibilities and the continual inquiry into past forms and practices. When this present-past interplay is centered at the heart of artistic training, students not only gain optimal mastery of skills and concepts within their field, they also experience their field as a vehicle for a broader, cross-disciplinary exploration. The Department of Jazz and Improvisation Studies at the University of Michigan School of Music has harnessed these principles and emerged as a leading new educational voice. Combining the finest in traditional jazz training with systematic study of jazz's eclectic offshoots, along with innovative, interdisciplinary options which are at the cutting edge of pedagogical thought, the department offers students a variety of educational pathways few schools can match.