UW-Parkside’s Jazz Week returns next week with an impressive lineup
Somers, Wis. - After a two-year COVID hiatus, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside welcomes back Jazz Week. This year’s weeklong jazz series, featuring an impressive lineup of regional and internationally renowned musicians, is scheduled for March 14-18 at Bedford Concert Hall.
Jazz Week, now in its eighth year, was placed on hiatus in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event aims to offer Parkside students and greater Southeastern Wisconsin residents a chance to hear world-class jazz in the intimate setting of Bedford Hall. The concerts run Monday through Wednesday and feature a question-and-answer session with the artists after their performances. Jazz Week is hosted by UW-Parkside's College of Arts and Humanities.
UW-Parkside is the only university in the University of Wisconsin System that offers a week-long series of events of the magnitude of Jazz Week, said Russ Johnson, associate professor in the Music Department at UW-Parkside, and director of the university’s Jazz Studies program.
“Jazz Week is a one of kind event that only happens on the UW-Parkside campus,” Johnson said. “This is a remarkable opportunity for our students to interact with and ask questions of these incredible musicians. The students gain a deeper understanding of these artists’ lives, process, and commitment to the music. … Southeastern Wisconsin is extremely fortunate to have this series in our own backyard.”
Each evening’s performance will begin at 7 p.m. The Bad Plus, an internationally renowned group, will headline at Bedford Hall at 7 p.m. on March 17. The week will kick off with the Lenard Simpson Quartet on March 14, followed by Alexis Lombre on March 15, and Joshua Abrams Natural Information Society on March 16. On the final day, March 18, Parkside Jazz Faculty will perform a free noon concert and, later that evening, student musicians from UW-Parkside and Kenosha High Schools will be featured.
The Bad Plus has been together in one form or another since 1989. Their sound combines elements of modern avant-garde jazz with rock and pop influences. Formerly a trio and now a quartet, this new configuration features two of its original players, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King, with new band members, Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and Ben Monder on electric guitar. King commented on the band’s transition from a trio to a quartet, as quoted last year by WGBO FM, a jazz and blues-focused public radio station in Newark, New Jersey.
“Being able to go out and play your own music and have a band that people have followed for many, many years is an incredible gift,” said King, as quoted by WGBO. “And the amount that we have been able to do it with this philosophy of, that it really is a concept. It's conceptual thinking. It's band thinking. It's a way of improvising together that doesn't have a hierarchy in the instrument.”
Simpson, who leads the Lenard Simpson Trio, is a saxophone player, composer, and educator from Milwaukee, where he began playing the alto saxophone at age 11. In high school, he was selected to participate in the prestigious GRAMMY Camp—Jazz Session. Since graduating in Jazz Performance from Northern Illinois University, he has gone on to garner impressive accolades such as winning the Liminarts Jazz Competition, receiving the Herbie Hancock Institute Fellowship in 2018, and recently being selected as a fellowship winner to teach and perform at the Jazz Institute of Chicago. He will be joined by band members Julius Tucker on piano, Runere Brooks on bass, and Samuel Jewell on drums.
Chicago native, Lombre, will bring her genre-bending, piano playing to Parkside. As a child, she developed an enthusiasm for her mother’s jazz recordings and, at the same, a taste for old school soul and funk. A recent graduate of the University of Michigan, Lombre strives to make jazz more relatable. “My next project is incorporating all the sounds I grew up with, rather than just one part of me. Being from Chicago, you have the history of gospel, R&B, Chess Records, blues, hip-hop, house music, you have all these histories, so now I’m trying to pull all those influences together and see what comes out,” said Lombre, as quoted in a recent JazzTimes article.
Abrams characterized the sound of his Natural Information Society as cross-cultural and cross-generational, and as both adventurous and approachable. The New York Times described the Abram’s 2017 album Simultonity as “an aesthetic of repetition and renewal; a global scrapbook of sources: the liquid chime of 20th-century minimalism; the trebly funk of guitar-driven jazz fusion; the burrowing pulse of West Africa’s Gnawa music with Abrams on the guimbri (a three-stringed bass).” In a 2014 New City Music article, Abrams called his music “niche.”
“What I mean by that is that I think it’s specific. So, one, it probably helps if a person just enjoys listening to music at all. And then secondly, that maybe they hear something that’s a little bit different, that doesn’t quite fit neatly into preconceived categories,” said Abrams, as quoted by New York City Music in 2014
Johnson, UW-Parkside’s Jazz Studies director, will take the stage during the noon concert on March 18. Johnson will be featured on his trumpet, along with Dave Bayles on drums, James Sodke on piano and other guests. The week will culminate with a final concert focused on the future. The UW-Parkside Jazz Ensemble will play as well as jazz ensembles from Bradford High School, Indian Trail High School, and Tremper High School.
“The final evening concert is always the highlight of Jazz Week, as we are seeing the future, that is, these amazing students of jazz” says Lesley Walker, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “The noon concert on Friday will be incredible, of course, but it’s our faculty who are playing. It’s fun to have high school students at Bedford Hall. We get a chance to see their development, to see them learning this repertoire, to see them playing this repertoire.”
The University of Wisconsin-Parkside is committed to high-quality educational programs, creative and scholarly activities, and services responsive to its diverse student population, and its local, national, and global communities. We are a dynamic learning community grounded in academic excellence and focused on student success, diversity, inclusion, and community engagement. The campus serves as a premier comprehensive public institution and a destination of choice, serving as a focal point of local, regional, and global progress.
Executive Director of University Relations
University of Wisconsin-Parkside