Great Plains Jazz Festival: First night of Omaha Jazz Festival offers classics, surprise


Adriana David

The University of Nebraska at Omaha hosted The Great Plains Jazz Festival Friday and Saturday. The Friday night session featured two acts: The Metropolitan Area Youth Jazz Orchestra, featuring Brett and Dave Stamps, and the Omaha Big Band, featuring Justin Kisor, on the trumpet. This concert exposed me to a different genre of music that I hadn’t known very much about prior to this.

Night one of the festival took place in the Recital Hall in Strauss Performing Arts Center. Strauss was a great place to hold the first night of the festival because the venue was not too big, so it felt relaxed, almost like the performers were giving us a private one-on-one performance. The house lights were also kept at a good level so we could see the performers from our seats.

The Omaha Big Band is a 17-piece ensemble made up of saxophonists, trumpeters, trombonists and a rhythm section. The rhythm section included guitar, drums, bass and a piano, just like any other jazz band or combo. The saxophonists even doubled as flutists for a few songs. Learning one instrument is difficult enough, but learning two to the caliber that these musicians have was impressive. The musicians effortlessly made the switch back and forth from the saxophone to the flute. As a whole, the Omaha Big band specializes in playing mostly classics.

I recognized some of the songs they played because I often attend Jitterbugs Swing Dancing. The song “Take the A Train” is a song that is played nearly every week at Jitterbugs. Many of the songs they played on this particular night were composed by George Gershwin. “Love for Sale” was my favorite Gershwin piece of the night.

Photo Courtesy of The Gateway
Photo Courtesy of The Gateway

The Metropolitan Area Youth Jazz Orchestra (MAYJO) is made up of many musically gifted high school students from the area. They are directed by Dr. Pete Madsen, who is also the coordinator of Jazz Studies at UNO.

The first song MAYJO played, entitled “Lucky Southern,” could not have been more different from the music heard at Jitterbugs on a normal basis. That shows the beauty of jazz music though: It is very diverse and not every song has to have a “swing feel.” “Lucky Southern” was premiered for the first time on the stage at UNO. It was written by Brett Stamps especially for the Jazz Festival.

Another song that the Metropolitan Area Youth Jazz Orchestra played was entitled “Summer-time.” This song was unique because it featured a vocalist, Papillion-La Vista High School student Kara Walton. One instrument that MAYJO included in its rhythm section was the vibraphone. I had never seen this instrument before, but it was very unique and I loved its sound.

The Omaha Big Band’s guest performer, Justin Kisor, was amaz-ing. By the age of 17, Justin was already receiving worldwide recognition for his talent of playing the trumpet. He received the Clifford Brown/ Stan Getz Fellowship,then through that, received a full ride scholarship to study at New School of Jazz at New York City’s Mannes College.

Throughout his years as a musician, Kisor has has worked with many artists, including Nora Jones, whose songs I very much enjoy.

If that wasn’t amazing enough, after studying at Mannes, Kisor went on to be a part of the first Class of Jazz at the Juilliard School. Kisor graduated from Juilliard in 2004. He currently teaches how to play the trumpet at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. It was an honor having him perform with the Omaha Big Band here on campus at UNO.

I loved this concert very much and I thank the University of Nebraska at Omaha for hosting it and helping people express them-selves through music, and for exposing other people to a genre of music that is very important in our country’s history.