Livingston is “unmistakably the place to be for live music and jazz particularly” Nov. 7-9, when the Livingston Jazz Festival brings top-notch jazz artists to town. The festival, now in its fourth year, is the brainchild of Garrett Stannard, director of bands at Park High School.
According to Stannard, Park High is the only high school in Montana – or the region that he’s aware of – to offer a jazz fest, especially one that attracts some big-name artists. This year’s roster includes the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance Ensemble and the Jeff Hamilton Trio. They not only work with students, but also perform public concerts on Friday and Saturday.
This marks Stannard’s sixth year of teaching in Livingston, the third year of the jazz festival – and the first time he’s tried to market it to a larger audience.
“The festival can’t sustain itself as an in-house thing – it has to have a leg in both the school and the community,” he says.
To that end, the festival offers three evening concerts and several after-parties at local establishments.
This year’s public offerings kick off Thursday with a free swing dance lesson and a performance by the new Gateway City Big Band, beginning at 6 p.m. at the Livingston Elks Lodge. Just a month old, the 20-member band features everyone from third graders to professional musicians.
On Friday at 7 p.m., the 2020 Herbie Hancock Institute Performance Ensemble will inspire audience members of all ages with their virtuosic improvisation and world-class musicianship. The elite seven-member ensemble includes bassist Emma Dayhuff, who grew up in Bozeman. Park High School Jazz Ensemble opens the show at the 400-seat Holbrook Methodist Church. Tickets are $12.
A free jam session follows from 9-11 p.m. at Uncorked Wine and Cheese Bar with the Alex Platt Collective of Bozeman.
The Jeff Hamilton Trio, featuring Hamilton on drums, Tamir Hendelman on piano, and Jon Hamar on bass, takes the stage at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Holbrook Church.
Hamilton “has played with everyone who matters in jazz,” says Stannard. “He’s a professional’s professional.” Park High School Jazz Ensemble also opens this show; tickets are $18.
Also on Saturday, the One O’Clock Jazz Ensemble – Montana State University’s premier jazz group – performs at 6 p.m. for a pre-concert reception at the Livingston Bar and Grill. And John Roberts y Pan Blanco, a Billings Latin jazz group, headlines the jazz fest after-party, 9 p.m. Nov. 9 at the historic Murray Bar.
Jazz Festival brings two worlds together
After graduating from Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Stannard moved to Livingston for his first teaching job six years ago. “Man, this town just took me in,” he says.
He began playing jazz around southwest Montana as a member of the The Swingly Jazz Project, and meeting musicians from Billings, Missoula and Bozeman.
As an educator and a musician, “I’ve been able to make great connections in the music world, and in the education world,” he says. The festival “brings those two worlds together.”
The inception for the festival “kind of fell into my lap in 2016,” recalls Stannard. The University of Montana had Victor Goines, a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Wynton Marsalis Septet, as a visiting artist. “I called and asked to borrow him.”
The renowned jazz saxophonist agreed and came to Livingston for a workshop, master class and performance. Bassist Emma Dayhuff, who grew up in Bozeman and is now a professional jazz artist and teacher, joined in, along with drummer Greg Artry of Chicago and pianist David Morgenroth of Missoula.
Inspired by that encounter, Stannard begin writing grants to bring another batch of professional musicians from Montana and New York to town for the inaugural festival in 2017. Dayhuff and Goines returned, this time with Clay Jenkins and Marion Felder of New York, and Montana jazz players Eric Olsen and Craig Hall. Students from other public schools attended their workshops, master classes and concerts.
Last year, composer, arranger and trombonist Eric Richards attended the festival and led a big band comprised of Montana artists.
Buoyed by anther success, Stannard “wrote even more grants, and invited more musicians.”
This year, 12 public schools from across the state and one university band – MSU’s One O’Clock Jazz Ensemble – will soak up the jazz-drenched atmosphere, which includes master classes on Jazz Combo Approaches and Principals (4 p.m. Friday) and Rhythm Section Fundamentals (3:30 p.m. Saturday).
This marks the third festival appearance by Dayhuff, a graduate of Bozeman High School, who attended the jazz program at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and teaches jazz performance and bass at the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA. Stannard credits her with helping galvanize the festival and inspire his students. “She’s just a powerful person,” he says.
To build public support for the event, Stannard has put in umpteen hours of his own time, reaching out to musicians, venues, schools and local businesses, saying, “Hey, would you do this with me?”
“If you want to have good music in a rural community, you’ve just got to work a little harder at it,” he says.
The school and community have been very supportive, he adds. The festival comes at a slow time of year, after the summer rush and before the holiday season. With more than 500 participants, plus jazz fans, it offers a boost to downtown businesses.
And for college, high school, and middle school jazz bands, it gives an opportunity to perform for guest clinicians, receive feedback in a nurturing, non-competitive environment, and learn from world-class artists.
“Everyone I talk to is just excited about it,” says Stannard.