Grammy-winning quartet to play Blue Ridge Jazz Festival

April 24, 2008|ASHLEY HAYWOOD

Special to The Herald-Mail

Two-time Grammy Award-winning jazz quartet the Yellowjackets will perform during the 34th annual Blue Ridge Jazz Festival at Smithsburg High School on April 25.

The festival features competitive performances by middle and high-school bands from the four-state region. Joining Smithsburg's bands will be jazz bands from Northern Middle School and North Hagerstown High School of Hagerstown, Frederick High School of Frederick, Md., Musselman High School of Inwood, W.Va., Damascus High School of Damascus, Md., Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., and Mountain Ridge High School in Frostburg, Md.

Gary Rupert, who coordinates the festival, usually invites a military or collegiate jazz ensemble to close the event. However, the opportunity to feature the Yellowjackets was one he could not resist.


"From my vantage point, it is an opportunity to create, for 150-plus students, an experience that they're going to remember for a long time," Rupert says. "They get a chance not only to hear other local groups but to hear, and play alongside a top-notch group."

The Yellowjackets make a point of reaching out to student musicians, according to the band's bassist, Jimmy Haslip.

"It's something that we want to do," he says. "We want to contribute in that way especially now. Where there used to be really wonderful music programs everywhere, that's now dwindling quite rapidly."

The Yellowjackets are pioneers of fusion music - a blend of rhythm and blues, pop, blues and jazz - or, as Haslip says, "Music that is very eclectic - contemporary jazz thrown out into the universe."

In addition to Haslip, the Yellowjackets feature Russell Ferrante on keyboards, Marcus Baylor on drums and Bob Mintzer on tenor and soprano saxophones.

They came together in 1981 and have since released 20 studio albums, received 13 Grammy nominations and won two Grammy Awards. The Yellowjackets have collaborated with artists such as Flora Perrin, Lionel Richie, Mike Stern and Steve Cropper. Their work has been featured in motion pictures ("Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home") and television (you might have heard them on the Weather Channel's "Local on the Eights" segments).

The quartet's appearance at the Blue Ridge Jazz Fest is part of an extensive East Coast tour to promote their 20th studio album, "Life Cycle." They recently returned from a European tour and a performance stop in Mexico City. Last week, the quartet headlined the famous Blue Note jazz lounge in Manhattan.

However, Haslip says that performances such as the Blue Ridge Jazz Festival are the fun part of an otherwise grueling tour schedule.

"Being on stage for an hour and a half, two hours - that's the fun part," he says. "I don't have the same opinion of sitting in airports."

Haslip also sees the Blue Ridge Jazz Fest as an opportunity to engage with students who are interested in music as a profession. The Yellowjackets are heavily involved in music education. Members of the band are adjunct professors at various universities and teach private lessons. They have written educational texts and have inspired two courses at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

In addition to performing with student musicians during the Blue Ridge Jazz Festival, the Yellowjackets plan on spending time with them prior to the show. Mintzer will attend a practice session with the young musicians and perhaps share stories and tips of life as a working artist.

"The glamorous life of a musician is really not so glamorous when you're in the trenches becoming a full-fledged professional," Haslip says. "It's something that requires you to passionately love what you're doing. But whether you travel to shows in a limousine or a Honda station wagon, it doesn't matter if it's what you're passionate about."

If you go ...

WHAT: 34th annual Blue Ridge Jazz Festival

WHERE: Smithsburg High School, 66 N. Main Street, Smithsburg

WHEN: Friday, April 25; high school and middle school jazz bands begin performing at 5 p.m.; the Yellowjackets perform at 9 p.m.

COST: $25

CONTACT: For tickets, call 301-766-8337

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