The Boise State University Gene Harris Jazz Festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary April 5-7 by bringing back Club Night, an event that will bring sizzle and sass, bebop and brass to Downtown Boise.
It is time, says Alex Noppe, an assistant professor of trumpet and director of jazz studies at Boise State who heads the festival. “I’ve been talking about the festival for a few years now and everyone mentions Club Night,” he says. “I see it like a mini-Treefort for jazz.”.
This year you’ll find eight seasoned jazz groups playing at four clubs. With your $25 ticket, you get entry into each between 5 and 10 p.m. Thursday.
Noppe also is bringing back a larger main-stage concert with a Friday night performance at another community friendly venue, the Morrison Center. It will feature two of the hottest acts on the jazz circuit: headliner Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band and an appearance by Boise’s Curtis Stigers.
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Stigers first learned about jazz as a teenager, jamming with pianist and jazz legend Gene Harris at the former Idanha Hotel. He has gone on to become a Top 40 singer and songwriter, and now an international jazz artist. Stigers will perform a few songs from his latest album, “One More for the Road,” a tribute to Frank Sinatra, with the Gene Harris SuperBand.
The festival started in 1992 as a campus-centric educational event. In 1997, Harris gave his name to the festival and put his musical clout behind it. Harris had moved to the Treasure Valley in 1977 with his Boise-born wife, Janie.
Harris was beloved in Boise. He played a regular Tuesday night gig at the Idanha, where jazz greats such as Ray Brown would just drop in, and at the Boise River Festival — always for free.
His support raised the festival’s profile in the music world, and some of the hottest players came to Boise for the event because they wanted to hang with him. Harris also brought in major players such as Arturo Sandoval and Chuck Mangione for main-stage concerts.
Harris created Club Night to spark a feel for the heyday of jazz, when New York City’s 52nd Street supported oodles of jazz clubs, and people and musicians floated from place to place. In Boise, it was like a moving jam session where you could hear musicians such as legendary sax player Ernie Watts and drummer Jeff Hamilton.
Club Night was a huge hit for the first few years, but after Harris died in 2000, the festival lost its momentum, struggled financially and eventually back retreated to campus. Club Night ended in 2008.
Noppe aims to raise some noise by reviving it, hoping the changes ignite renewed interest in the festival and help it to grow. It’s possible, he says. The local audience for jazz has grown in recent years, with the Boise Jazz Society shows selling out regularly. The shows have helped create a local taste for music that is historically a hard sell.
You’ll hear a diversity within the genre, including some familiar Boise jazz artists — sax player Sandon Mayhew and pianist Chuck Smith, and vocalist Cherie Buckner-Webb — and frequent visitors such as drummer Kobie Watkins and organist Tony Monaco. You’ll also meet new faces, including the a cappella vocal jazz quartet Just For Kicks and Canadian singer and trumpet virtuoso Bria Skonberg.
The Gene Harris Jazz Festival still focuses on education, Noppe says. This year 1,500 students from across the region will participate in the clinics and classes beginning Wednesday with some of the best jazz educators in the region, and compete for honors.
“It’s a good time for jazz,” Noppe says. “It’s still got a smaller market share, but jazz is booming in schools, and there’s a growing young audience.”
AACT regional in Boise
The 2017 Region IX American Association of Community Theatre competition brings community theaters from Oregon and Washington to Boise for two days of theatrical performance and fun competition. You’ll also see two Idaho theaters — Boise Little Theater and DreamWeaver Musical Theatre — compete to go to the national competition.
It’s at 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 31, and 2 p.m. Saturday, April 1, at Boise State University’s Special Events Center. $10 for Friday, $15 for Saturday, $20 for a two-day pass at Brown Paper Tickets or the door.
March 31: DreamWeaver of Nampa’s “The Wizard of Oz,” Tacoma Little Theater’s “Second Samuel.”
Lunafest hits The Flicks
Films by women and for women are hard to come by in this male-dominated world. Now, on Saturday, April 1, the annual Lunafest Film Festival will showcase a global slate of nine films that tell stories about women and the issues they face and embrace.
The proceeds will benefit Soroptimist International of Boise and the Breast Cancer Fund, which focuses on the environmental causes of breast cancer.
Gene Harris Club Night
5 to 10 p.m., Thursday, April 6, at several Downtown venues:
▪ Berryhill, 121 N. 9th St.: Bill Anschell Quartet with Brent Jensen (5 p.m.), Robert Turner Trio featuring Henry Franklin (7:30 p.m.)
▪ Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy: Kobie Watkins Grouptet (5:30 p.m), Chuck & Sandon Project Crusaders Edition (8 p.m.)
▪ JUMP, 1000 W. Myrtle St., Just 4 Kicks (5:30 p.m.), Tony Monaco Trio (8 p.m.)
▪ Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St.: The Gene Harris All Stars, Boise State Jazz Ensemble and Cherie Buckner-Webb (6 p.m.), The Bria Skonberg Quartet (8:30 p.m.)
$25 at GeneHarris.boisestate.edu.
Gene Harris Headline Concert
Friday, April 7, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise.
▪ 6:30 p.m.: Outstanding Ensembles Showcase Concert
▪ 7:30 p.m.: Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, the Gene Harris SuperBand with Wayne Bergeron (trumpet) and special guest Curtis Stigers.
$35 at GeneHarris.boisestate.edu.
More Gene Harris Festival events
Kick-off Concert: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 5: Just 4 Kicks, the Boise State Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and the Boise State Jazz Ensemble at the BSU Special Events Center. $12 at GeneHarris.boisestate.edu.
▪ Gold Package includes Kick-off Concert, Club Night and Headliner Concert, and an official T-shirt: $63 at GeneHarris.boisestate.edu.
▪ Silver package includes Club Night and Headliner Concert: $54 at GeneHarris.boisestate.edu.