Ben Williams, who won the Grammy for Best Instrumental Jazz Album, will be performing with Sound Effect on Saturday, April 13 at the Orpheum Theatre, the biggest venue of the festival.
“I think our artists are great every year, but this year, it means something to some people,” Assistant Professor of Music Nikki Malley said.
As the artistic director of the Rootabaga Jazz Festival, one of Malley’s main goals is to bring active, accessible musicians that represent what is happening in the jazz scene now.
“What [Malley] likes to push forward, which I really like, is having a jazz festival that’s something a little different,” senior Jake Hawrylak said. “It’s just nice that [Malley’s] a little more progressively-minded with the artists she brings. … In the past four or five years that I’ve been aware of the goings-on of the festival, each year, our guest artist, we’ve basically picked them up three years before they become a big name.”
Looking ahead in this manner has contributed to more behind-the-scenes changes to the festival. This year, the most notable one has been the addition of a manager, that title belonging to Associate in Applied Music Andy Crawford. In previous years, Malley handled all of the administrative processes for the festival.
Malley has also worked to cultivate an educational component of the Rootabaga Jazz Festival.
This year, the Deep Blue Organ Trio will be hosting Rootabaga Kids, a family-friendly talk and performance.
“I’m really excited about that,” Malley said. “It’s another way for us to make this festival part of the whole community.”
Included in that community are numbers of alumni that come from as far as Portland to reconnect and play in the Alumni Big Band on the Friday of the festival.
In past years, there has not been much for them to do for the rest of the weekend. This year, Malley has organized an alumni softball game on Saturday.
“We’re kind of structuring the alumni’s time a little more. It really is kind of a homecoming for alumni from the jazz program,” she said. “This is a destination for them as alumni, so we’re kind of trying to enrich their experience as well.”
As an alumna herself, it has been meaningful to Malley to build these relationships.
“About four o’clock or so on Friday, the alumni start showing up in the building and coming into the office. In some ways, that’s my favorite part. It’s before any of the events, really, but it’s when I remember why we do all of this,” she said.
Students in the jazz program have their reasons as well for looking forward to the festival.
“The best part for me every year is what happens after the Saturday night concert. We go back to McGillacuddy’s and have a little after-party for whoever’s in the band,” Hawrylak said. “It’s just really great to have that time to chat one-on-one with the artists and ask the questions.”
Senior Nate Beck said he was most excited about performing with Ben Williams.
“I think he’s fantastic,” he said. “I went on a choir tour over spring break and I got to see him, in New York City, play in his element. … We actually got to go up and talk to him a little bit after the show, and he was very cordial and congenial. Just a really nice guy.”
Whether it is performances by Ben Williams or the alumni, the Rootabaga Jazz Festival aims to present a number of opportunities for all jazz listeners.
“It’s a festival, so it’s three days of fun, basically,” Beck said. “It’s just a good opportunity for people who don’t necessarily come to Jazz Night every Thursday to really just kind of engage with the whole jazz scene and just see what it’s all about. Same goes for the Galesburg community. It’s just an opportunity to listen to some great music.”