Jazz festival and competition revived at Fresno State — Billy Higgins to headline slate of top artists

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Jazz festival and competition revived at Fresno State — Billy Higgins to headline slate of top artists

Jazz competition for college and high school bands statewide returns to California State University, Fresno after a six-year hiatus when the Billy Higgins Jazz Festival unfolds April 30 and May 1 on campus featuring an impressive line-up of world renowned jazz artists.

Drummer Billy Higgins will lead several guest artists in workshops and clinics during the two-day festival for students from 32 college and high school bands before the professional artists perform in concerts on Friday and Saturday evening.

The daytime competition sessions are free in the Concert Hall of the Music Building while the night performances range in admission from $5 to $20. All sessions are open to the general public.

Proceeds from the concert ticket revenues will benefit scholarships for music students and help defray the resident artists’ costs, which are also funded by the university and community sponsors, said Dr. Larry Sutherland, Fresno State’s director of bands.

Sutherland said the line-up of big name artists resembles that of the Monterey Jazz Festival.

“This is an unusual festival for a college to have so many big name artists participating,” Sutherland said. “Most colleges can enlist two to three at the most but we will have about ten. This approaches the caliber of the Monterey Jazz Festival.”

Fresno State held a jazz festival until about six years ago when funding dried up, Sutherland said. Now the 32 bands will help re-introduce the festival with 16 bands scheduled for each day in what Sutherland said will be an annual event that brings high schools and community colleges throughout the state to compete.

The winning high school and college bands selected by judges during the two days of big band and small group ensemble competition will perform at the final concerts on Saturday night prior to the headliners.

In the first public performance on Friday at 7 p.m., Higgins will be joined by guest artists John Hicks on piano, Peter Leitch on guitar, and David Williams on bass in the Concert Hall of the Music Building. The Fresno State Alumni Jazz Band A will open the program.

On Saturday, May 1, the evening concert program will begin in the university’s Amphitheatre at 6:30 p.m. with festival’s winning bands. Eric Person’s Meta-Four, and the Terence Blanchard Group will follow the student performances.

Saturday evening performances will close with the Billy Higgins Quintet featuring Higgins on drums, Cedar Walton on piano, Richard Reid on bass, Harold Land on tenor saxophone, Oscar Brashear on trumpet, and special guest Jackie McLean on alto saxophone.

Jo Ann Collins, project administrator in administrative services, spearheaded efforts to bring the top jazz artists to Fresno State. Her connections to the jazz world stem from her role in founding Jazz Saint Louis, a not-for-profit arts organization in Missouri, in 1988 to present jazz artists in concert and to provide workshops and clinics for area school children.

Higgins, from Los Angeles and the most recorded jazz drummer, is currently on the faculty of the Jazz Studies Program at UCLA and has taught workshops, clinics, and master classes on drums as well as improvisation at colleges and universities around the world. He is the co-founder of the World Stage, a cultural center that nurtures talented young musicians from all segments of the community and provides them with instruction and rehearsal space.

The evening jazz concerts are presented by University Student Union Productions and the Department of Music with tickets available through all Bass ticket outlets and in the USU.

For more information about the festival, contact Sutherland at (559) 278-2489. For the artists, contact Collins at 278-4680. For ticket information, contact the USU Ticket Office at 278-2078.