Features April 22, 2019

UNC Jazz Fest Hits A New Home

by Dan England

The Jazz Festival is more than just a way to celebrate America’s original form of music. It’s a recruiting tool. It’s a way for the University of Northern Colorado to shake its tail feathers and show people what makes it great. UNC has one of the best jazz programs in the country. It’s a way to prove it.

That’s the main reason why UNC is excited to bring the Greeley/UNC Jazz Festival to its campus. As strange as it sounds, the festival itself (now 47 years running) was always downtown, over a mile away from the heart of the actual music school.

“We’ve been doing this for however many years without anyone seeing the campus,” said Michael Alexander, the director of the UNC School of Music. “It’s an amazing opportunity for us to have this space and bring 6,000-8,000 people on campus for the event.”

Briana Harris, Instructor of Jazz History conducts rehearsal in UNC’s new Campus Commons.

He’s referring to the Campus Commons, the university’s shiny new performance hall, next to the University Center. Both buildings will now house 99 percent of the festival, including the three nightly concerts. That will mean the biggest change in decades: The performers will play two shows on Thursday and Friday. Why? The concert hall holds, at most, 800 people. That would leave the Union Colony Civic Center, the old location, half full. The first show starts at 4:30 pm, with the second starting three hours later. “We’re providing access for many more people to see these shows,” Alexander said. “The feeling of intimacy will be incredible.”

The public has responded well, with advance ticket sales “selling like crazy,” ahead what they’ve been for many shows in the past, Alexander said. That could also have something to do with the popular headliners, as Take 6 and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra have both sold out shows here in the past.

Jazz legend Benny Golson will play only one show, Saturday afternoon April 27, which is more of a reflection of the fact that most of the students, especially the thousands of high schoolers, will be gone by then. “Saturday’s always been a difficult one for us to sell well,” he said. “We will see how it goes, and if it does sell out, we’ll think about adding another show in the future.”

The complex also provides open space for arts patrons and students alike.

Alexander does not believe parking will be an issue, as there are plenty of spaces around the University Center along with street parking. There should also be plenty of opportunity for Greeley residents to check out all the student groups as well as talks and masterclasses given by the talented musicians who judge and perform. All of this, including special lectures by the headliners, will remain free. Additionally, there should actually be more room in the commons and University Center areas for people to watch the festival this year.

State of the art audio and lighting systems are among the venues assets now more easily accessible to students.

Alexander believes downtown will still enjoy and feel the jazz festival’s presence, as most of the participants will still go there to sleep, eat and drink. Plus, the Moxi Theater, 802 8th Avenue, will host the popular free after-hours sessions.

“We’re excited to have conversations with the city as to how we can partner successfully in the future,” he said. In fact, jazz lovers may want to think about getting tickets to both shows each night. “There may be some slight changes to the sets,” Alexander said. “This is, after all, jazz.”

Photos by Kevin Johnston