Ulysses Owens Jr. to headline 39th annual Jazz Fest 

The festival returns to Gaffney Auditorium after virtual performance last year



The Count Basie Orchestra with jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco perform at the 2019 Jazz Fest in the Gaffney Auditorium

The 39th annual Frank Mantooth New Trier Jazz Festival will be held on Feb. 5 and will host 36 bands from area schools. 

Students such as senior Gavin Auer praise the fest for allowing them to come together and participate in a unique occasion to learn more about their passion.

“The magic of hundreds of students from different counties and districts coming together to celebrate the expansive culture and history of Jazz is amazing, and beautifully indescribable,” said Auer. 

The magic of hundreds of students from different counties and districts coming together to celebrate the expansive culture and history of Jazz is amazing, and beautifully indescribable”

— Gavin Auer

Sophomore Ava Siu said the community of jazz band creates a positive vibe. 

“I think overall jazz is usually like a tighter-knit community out of all the music programs, and there’s a lot of soloing and the flow of the music is really chill. Everyone really enjoys it and just expresses themselves,” said sophomore Siu. 

The Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band with special guest Marquis Hill will perform at 7:30 pm in the Gaffney auditorium. The Jazz 1 ensemble will open the evening concert.

According to a press release sent by Communications Coordinator Lia Kass Fahs, Owens Jr. is a coveted drummer and mentor in the New York jazz scene, teaching at the Juilliard school of music. He intentionally sought diverse musical voices for his ensemble. Marquis Hill is a Chicagoan trombonist who won the prestigious Thelonious Monk Prize in 2014.

“Ulysses Owens Jr is the leader of that band and diversity in terms of age, gender, musical background, racial makeup, he’s really kind of created what we know as kind of a musical melting pot. And so I’m super excited for so many students who are going to be at our evening concert to see a version of themselves up on stage,” said Nicholas Meyer, director of Jazz Band. 

This is the first time the Owen Jr.’s band will be performing with Hill. 

“They’re excited for that artistic kind of synergy. They’re going to sound awesome together,” said Meyer.

Students will have opportunities to step into leadership roles during the fest.

“During the day, our students are really going to be kind of the face of the festival, so they’re going to be helping us run a lot of the components during the day,” said Meyer. 

The freshman jazz band and sender schools participate in the festival which inspires inspires freshman and junior high students to join the program. 

“It’s my hope—and I know this happens because students tell me, whether that’s a freshman or maybe that’s a 7th or 8th grader from one of our sender schools— they see Jazz 1 up there on stage, and they think ‘I want to do that.’ That in some ways starts this process for them of having something to aim for, having a goal to aim for on their journey as a jazz musician,” said Meyer.

Students feel energized performing in front of audiences and professional jazz musicians. 

“I think the energy is really cool because everyone kind of goes into this focus mode,” said Siu. “When we go to play for people, everyone becomes really focused. You become really aware of the things around you and I think our playing enhances a lot.”

Jazz students said that after working so hard on the music as an ensemble for so long, they are thrilled when playing together on stage during the fest.. 

“Hearing it all come together —just hearing everybody play the parts sounds really nice, and hearing all the soloists is really rewarding,” said sophomore Katie Hedberg. 

Members of the jazz ensemble “work like a groovy machine, each instrument adding its own unique sound that causes the gears to turn,” said Auer. “We have an amazing time together on stage. At jazz fest this year, you’ll not only see, but hear us having fun and cheering each other on!”