Although the 2004 Iowa City Jazz Festival (ICJF) has already passed us by, jazz fans looking ahead and planning festival trips for next summer may find this overview informative. Held each year during the first weekend in July, the ICJF is a wonderful opportunity for families, students, and the general public to hear world-class musicians in accessible and friendly downtown Iowa City.
This year the main stage moved from the heat-soaked pavement of the streets to the Pentacrest (old Capitol lawn), where towering shade trees provided relief from the blazing summer sun. Vendors continued to offer plenty of food choices and cold drinks were a-plenty. And the best part: admission to the ICJF is completely free.
This year's festival was bigger than ever, and despite the rain that ruined the Friday night portion (leaving local groups The United Jazz Ensemble and Orquesta Alto Maiz gig-less) eager listeners returned the next morning to stake out prime seating spots.
Saturday's lineup featured blues band Kevin "B.F." Burt and the Instigators; pianist David Berkman
and his quartet, featuring Dick Oates; Jane Bunnett
and the Spirits of Havana, led by Ms. Bunnett on flute and soprano sax; Stefon Harris
and Blackout, a fantastic young vibraphonist and marimba player; and the obnoxiously loud but energetic jam band, Soulive.
By Sunday the clouds dissipated and the weather couldn't have been betterfor most of the day, anyway. The Grismore/Scea Group, led by festival coordinator and guitarist Steve Grismore, kicked off the show with some gutsy electric jazz. Guaranteed Swahili followed, a drummer-bass-and-two-sax combo that, while the musicians clearly exhibited excellent musicianship, was somewhat monotonous as the two horns dominated the majority of each tune with their extended improvisational efforts. Trumpeter Terrell Stafford
got more traditional jazz fans back on track with his tasty approach to standard and contemporary tunes. Chicago's own Patricia Barber
was a pleasant surprise; though somewhat mellow, Barber's original compositions and twist on standard tunes made us Midwesterners realize that we don't have to travel New York to hear world-class talent (Barber performs regularly at the Green Mill). Concluding the festival was one of my favorite bands, the Yellowjackets
. I was disappointed that sax man Bob Mintzer couldn't be there, but Bob Sheppard did a great job as a sub. (Kudos to SheppardI sure wouldn't want to sight read any of their tunes!) Unfortunately, the Jackets' set was cut short as dark clouds and lightening began to roll across the skies once again.
This was my sixth year at the ICJF, and I'll certainly be back for more in 2005. For more information about this fantastic festival, including its history, past performers, photos, and more, visit www.iowacityjazzfestival.com