Articles, Blog

Knox Jazz Year

October 31, 2019


My name is Andy Crawford, I’m the
Managing Director of the Knox Jazz Year. I’m Nikki Malley, I am Associate
Professor of Music at Knox College, Director of the Jazz Studies Program, and
Chair of the Music Department. At Knox, we have a big band, plus six or seven different individual combos, and we offer instruction on every single jazz instrument. What I think makes Knox unique is we have performing
opportunities throughout the year for the students. For close to 30 years, we’ve been hosting Jazz Night. Our top jazz combo performs a professional gig every single week, four hours every Thursday night. Besides that, they’re also playing in social engagements throughout Galesburg, where students can hone their skills, and learn how to play in a professional environment. You walk out of Knox having really developed a professional profile; you understand what it means to be a professional performing musician. I’d love to see the large ensemble, which is the Knox Jazz Ensemble, that I direct, and also the Cherry Street Combo, travel more. Bring their music off campus. We’ve traveled to Spain and China. We went to Nashville, and had a few
performances, but we also got a chance to record, and that recording is going to be
released here. It’s the second album that that group has done in the past few years that features entirely original compositions and arrangements by the students. Walking out of college with a professional artifact, as something that you created, but you also develop as a musician in ways that are significantly different, I think, than just learning other people’s music. In jazz, I’m not sure there’s a much more important aspect than developing your own voice, and so if you can do that as a performer and as a composer, then we’ve done something good. This year is the 40th anniversary of the Rootabaga Jazz Festival. Some of the artists that we’ve had in
have been personal heroes of mine, so being able to have Brian Blade’s
Fellowship Band here, having Mark Guiliana last year— in the fall, we have the Jerome Mirza Jazz Residency where, every year, we bring in a different artist and band to work with the students for a week. Really continuing to bring in the best artists we can, who really speak to the students where they’re at. We also have the Winter Jazz Series, which typically focuses on global musics and their influence on jazz. Our size school around the country, around the world, rarely is lucky enough to have a jazz program this robust; not only with the number of ensembles that we have, but with the year-long programming that we have, bringing in nationally and internationally renowned artists. so you get a little bit of a conservatory experience while also being a Liberal Arts student. We’re able to pull together and have some magical musical experiences, that both we enjoy and the audiences enjoy. It’s a way for musicians to be able to be involved in a community, and together with each other, and with the audience, but still be individuals within that community. Even in the jazz band, when we’re playing music off of written charts, every single person is a soloist. So, there is this kind of elevation of the individual voice. There’s an ability to interpret even what’s on the page; we’re never going for exact reproduction. I want students to find their own voice, so that everybody who walks out of here sounds like themselves, not like me, or one of the other instructors in the program. But I also want students to walk out with an appreciation for what jazz is. Obviously, I love it when my students become professional musicians and composers and recording artists, or professors and teachers, and I know not everybody’s gonna do that with the rest of their life, but if they go out with a much more refined sense of who they are as a person, as a musician, and what is meaningful to them as a listener, then I think we’ve done a pretty good thing.

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