MO Jazz Festival brings clarity, charity to Sunday afternoon

The MO Jazz Festival migrated from Jefferson City to Columbia in search of a large jazz audience and a wider net of talent.

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Columbia’s Rose Music Hall was filled with improvised notes and heads bobbing along to music as the MO Jazz Music Festival came to town Sept. 3. Running through the afternoon from noon to six, senior citizens and children alike gathered under trees and on picnic benches on a warm day for some cool music.

The festival was put on by the Jazz Forward Initiative Inc., which, as board President Jeff Bassinson said, is a “non-profit whose core value is to help promote and expand the awareness of America's truly original musical art form, Jazz.”

“What we do is exactly this,” Bassinson said, gesturing to the crowd of people sitting behind him at Rose Music Hall. “It's free and open to the public. I can't think of a better way of getting people to come in, maybe get a cocktail of some sort or even just water and sit down and enjoy some music.”

For the past 26 years, the MO Jazz Festival existed as a Jefferson City affair. This is the festival’s first run in Columbia, a change that allowed the lineup for the festival to branch into national bands in addition to the typical local and regional artists.

“There's a heavy-duty core group of jazz musicians and jazz fans that would always show up at these things,” Bassinson explained. “Unfortunately, it just wasn't enough to just sustain and we knew that Columbia was a very solid jazz-promoting city.”

The lineup at the festival featured five different bands hailing from Dallas and North Carolina to right here in Columbia. The different acts consisted of Henna Roso of Tulsa, OK, the Tom Andes Quintet of Columbia, the James Ward Band of Kansas City, the Jonathan Scales Fourchestra of Asheville, North Carolina and The Funky Knuckles of Dallas.

Larry Dudley, one of the audience members at the Jazz Festival, is a Chicago native and is used to attending Chicago area jazz events like the Chicago Jazz Festival in Millennium Park. A fan of jazz since high school, Dudley found himself on indefinite assignment in Columbia and was excited to find a jazz festival in town.

“There’s beautiful weather, a nice turnout so far and excellent quality jazzmanship,” Dudley said. “Jazz is relaxing. It expands my ability to think and it’s hugely original.”

When comparing the MO Jazz Festival to that of the Chicago festival that draws crowds of thousands, Dudley found little difference when it came to the music itself.

“The quality of the musicianship there is just as good as here,” Dudley explained. “A good musician is a good musician, and he knows how to play his instrument.”

Beyond the simple pleasure of enjoying jazz music on a Sunday afternoon, the festival had a charitable atmosphere. The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri had its own bin at the festival, accepting food or monetary donations. According to the Food Bank’s Facebook page, every one dollar donated corresponded to approximately $21 in groceries bought for “neighbors in need.” The Bank partnered with opening band Henna Roso, whose main purpose as a band is to fight hunger by donating 10 percent of every performance dollar they earn.

When not organizing jazz performances for the public, JFI hosts its own musical outreach program titled “Jazz On Wheels,” which aims to introduce young students to jazz music. Musicians are hired to go into elementary schools in the hopes of inspiring the children they meet. Bands may perform a live concert, engage in question and answer sessions and even allow the students to interact with the instruments.

“We're keeping that in Jeff City for now because obviously there are kids in elementary schools down there that are not likely to run across genres like this,” Bassinson explained. “The goal is to find the one kid that seeing [jazz] lights the spark that has them pursue it, possibly even start practicing and if all goes extremely well, do it professionally.”

Many people at the MO Jazz Festival found the music made for a relaxing Sunday afternoon, cheering after each set and swaying along to soothing music.

Edited by Alexandra Sharp | asharp@themaneater.com

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