EAU CLAIRE — In the 1960s, two music professors at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Ron Keezer and Dominic Spera, pioneered the teaching of the art of jazz in educational institutions.

In 1967, the first UW-Eau Claire Jazz Festival was organized to bring this teaching to middle school, high school and college students. Area bands were invited to perform and be critiqued by a judge.

There would be hands-on clinics throughout the day and a main concert in the evening hosted by the UW-Eau Claire Jazz Ensemble I as well as a top jazz artist.

Since then, thanks to a proposal by Eau Claire Jazz Fest Artistic Director Robert Baca and former UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Dr. Brian Levin-Stankevich, the festival has expanded to community and has become one of the oldest and largest jazz festivals in America.

Baca has been part of the festival since 1986, when the twentieth annual festival was held.

Baca said the festival had done a good job of bringing the art of jazz to students, but there wasn’t much representation from the Eau Claire community.

Baca made a proposal to Levin-Stankevich, which had opened the University to new ideas more than ever before.

“I made a proposal to expand the festival into the city as a way to bring the University to the community rather than the community coming to the University,” Baca said.

At the same time, in 2005, the commission that decided to build the Pablo Center at La Confluence was in full swing and was looking for a way to bring the University and the community closer together.

The Chancellor’s recommendation was to form an independent non-profit organization.

“The organization would focus on bringing the University and community together through the UW-Eau Claire Jazz Festival,” Baca said.

So in 2009, Eau Claire Jazz Inc., a non-profit organization with a diverse board of community trustees from many different backgrounds, was formed and worked together to transform what was the UW-Eau Claire Jazz Festival. in just the Eau Claire Jazz Festival.

Baca said he received tremendous support and enthusiasm from the community and from UW-Eau Claire.

“As a founder, it’s more than I could have dreamed of,” Baca said. “For all of these things to come together for the purpose of creating communion with each other.”

Baca credits Volk, who knows the event so well first as a participant, and now as Executive Director, for organizing this year’s festival and for dedicating himself to the organization’s mission.

“The Jazz Festival will be presented at a level it has never before thanks to Quinten and who he is.”

Eau Claire Jazz Inc. is hosting the 56th annual festival on Friday, April 22 and Saturday, April 23.

According to Quinten Volk, executive director of Eau Claire Jazz Inc., the festival is divided into four main parts; two being more education-oriented and two more community-oriented.

On the pedagogical level, there are student sessions and master classes.

Student sessions bring local bands, this year nearly 100, to campus to perform in front of a judge and receive feedback. There is also the potential to win awards for performance.

Masterclasses bring together world-class artists to talk about their area of ​​expertise or specialty.

“We are truly dedicated to providing a wide range of topics to capture every student’s interest,” Volk said.

Some of the masterclasses offered during this year’s festival include: “Being a Complete Musician in Today’s Era: Playing Pitbull” with Luisa Sarmiento, “A Brave Conversation with the Ladies of the Lioness” by Lauren Sevian and Amanda Monaco, “How to Play the Blues” with Sue Orfield and many others.

Volk said the masterclasses are open to the public, but are largely attended by students. Events specifically created to attract community participation are the concert series and the jazz crawl.

The concert series was launched as part of Eau Claire Jazz Inc.’s mission to provide world-class entertainment to the community.

The series, Volk said, brings together artists who wouldn’t normally play in a small town like Eau Claire, as they regularly sell out some of the bigger venues.

This year’s concert series is led by Diane Schuur and Donny McCaslin.

Born in Tacoma, Washington, Schuur was blind from birth, however, she was gifted with perfect pitch and a vocal range of three and a half octaves. Schuur has enjoyed a distinguished recording career that spans over three decades, including two GRAMMY awards.

“Diane Schuur is probably one of the most prolific jazz singers of all time,” Volk said.

“It’s guaranteed, she’ll be one of the greatest singers you’ll ever hear in your life,” he said.

According to Baca, Schuur’s show will look like a Frank Sinatra concert.

“It will be big band swing at its best,” he said.

The other headliner, McCaslin, a tenor saxophonist, will share a more modern jazz.

McCaslin is best known as the saxophonist on David Bowie’s latest album, “Blackstar,” released days before the singer died in early 2016.

He is a three-time GRAMMY winner and has produced a dozen albums. His show will mainly consist of extended saxophone solos with a modern tune and an older tune.

“His music is at the highest level and on the edge of the future of jazz,” Baca said.

The final and probably most attended event of the Jazz Fest is the Jazz Crawl.

This event occurred during the development of the city center which was accompanied by the opening of the Center Pablo at La Confluence.

“In this community, I believe people wake up and think, ‘What can we do together? “, Volk said. “We were thinking of doing this event called 52nd Street, which is now known as Jazz Crawl.

On Friday, April 22, Jazz Fest takes over 18 venues downtown to welcome more than 40 groups from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.

The idea is that people walk into a room and watch a 45-minute jazz performance. Then, the last 15 minutes of the hour, there will be entertainment and “surprise shenanigans” on the street.

Baca offers a complete program for Eau Claire Jazz Fest participants:

Go to the clinics during the day at the University, have dinner at the Jazz Crawl, enjoy the nightly concert at the Pablo Center, then come back down to the Jazz Crawl to enjoy the energy of the night.

Volk said people of all ages and walks of life come to enjoy Jazz Fest.

“We have 2 year olds dancing in the street during our Jazz Crawl to people who are towards the end of their experience.”

The organization strives to bring in a variety of talent to please everyone. This year, attendees will be able to see traditional jazz bands, bluegrass musicians and even a ukulele choir.

Variety brings together a unique mix of people.

“We get an outback farmer who doesn’t even know what a trumpet comes out, to a dedicated jazz musician,” Volk said.

The history of jazz music and the nature of its form make this event what it is for Eau Claire.

According to Baca, because jazz originated here in America, all genres of music today are derived from it in one way or another. It’s like a willow, with jazz as its root. And, thanks to the work of Keezer and Spera, jazz has a long history in Eau Claire.

“Jazz, due to its founding nature, has become a tradition here,” Baca said.

For Volk, jazz music is a way to build community and spark excitement, and that’s why a festival like this works in Eau Claire.

“We like to use this quote, ‘everything is jazz,'” Volk said. “It’s all inclusive, it really can be anything.”

The Eau Claire Jazz Festival takes place all day from Friday April 22 to Saturday April 23 throughout the university and downtown area. For more information and timetables visit eauclairejazz.com.

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