College of Fine Arts and Design

UCO Jazz Musicians to Perform at Prestigious European Jazz Festivals

June 30, 2010European group

Top jazz students from the University of Central Oklahoma will play on the stages of two top-tier festivals in France and Italy this summer.

All 19 members of the UCO Jazz Ensemble I will travel in July to Perugia, Italy for the Umbria Jazz Festival and to Antibes, France, which hosts the oldest jazz festival in Europe, the Antibes Juan-les-Pins Festival.

However, the local public can get a preview of the ensemble's planned performance at a series of free, informal run-throughs from 3-5 p.m., Mon, Wed and Fri. the week of July 5 at the UCO Jazz Lab.

"This year is the 50th anniversary of the Antibes festival, so to be invited this year is a world-class honor," said Brian Gorrell, head of the UCO Jazz Studies Division and ensemble director.

For Eric Upchurch, a Central senior from Mustang, the opportunity to play at the festivals is "priceless," particularly because Europeans are known for their appreciation of jazz music.

"We are really lucky to get to go. Playing for a critical audience and playing so many times in such a short period of time lets you see what it is like to play professionally," said Upchurch, who plays lead trumpet in the ensemble.

The UCO Jazz Ensemble I will play a one-hour set for the Italian festival and then play three one-hour sets on consecutive days for the Antibes festival, located on the French Riviera. The tour will begin July 12 and will continue through July 21.

"Leaving can't come soon enough. I'm ready to perform," Upchurch said.

Gorrell said the UCO Foundation and UCO President Roger Webb were particularly helpful in the year-long fundraising efforts, which made the trip affordable for the college students.

"An experience like this is life changing, without a doubt. It was for me," said Gorrell, who played the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands in 1993 when he was a senior at Central.

"We not only played that festival, but toured through France, Germany, Holland and Belgium. It gave me a global perspective for the first time," Gorrell said.

Today's jazz ensemble was invited to play at the festivals after Gorrell submitted audition CDs.

"I'm super, super excited," said Katie Tolbert, a Central senior from Blanchard who plays lead trombone.

"Even though it's summer, we are hitting the rehearsals pretty hard. We know there will be people in the audience who know what they are listening to," said Tolbert. "It ups the ante, as far as the level you are expected to play. It makes you play better than you ever thought you could," she said.

Gorrell said the Jazz Ensemble I will play of a wide variety of contemporary and traditional music at the festivals. Among those arrangements is "Nefertiti/Idioteque," an original work by Zac Lee, an Edmond senior who plays the trombone.

Lee said his arrangement is a compilation of styles and influences, including traditional jazz, Brazilian house music, funk and British alternative rock band Radiohead's song "Idioteque."

"I think we all enjoy playing this piece because it requires a tremendous amount of work and you can't help but feel like you just accomplished something every time you play it," Lee said.

"It's an amazing piece of music," Gorrell added.

Gorrell believes the recent rehearsals will pay off.

"The students will experience an audience that has a much deeper, more profound appreciation for this music as an art form," he said.

"In other places, particularly in Europe and Asia, jazz music is much more universally appreciated and admired. Concerts are likely to be well-attended," Gorrell said.

In all, Gorrell said, the festivals last for several weeks and provide multiple stages with on-going live performances. Both attract world-famous musicians. This year, Roy Hargrove, Pat Metheny, Diana Krall, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Sonny Rollins will play.