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UNC Jazz Fest Keeps The Genre's Faith In Greeley

Stacy Nick
UNC Director of Jazz Studies Dana Landry leads a rehearsal of the UNC Jazz Lab Band 1. The group will perform with jazz artists, including Chris Potter, at the UNC/Greeley Jazz Festival.

What music are we consuming less and less in the United States? If you answered either, classical or jazz you'd be right – only because they are both tied in a recent survey done by Nielsen. But don't tell that to the organizers of the annual UNC/Greeley Jazz fest.

"Some people have looked at CD sales and iTunes sales and equate that to 'Well, there's not an interest in jazz,'" said Dana Landry, UNC director of jazz studies and one of the festival’s organizers. "But there definitely is still a big interest in jazz."

So much interest in fact that the festival is having its best year yet, with more than 8,000 expected attendees from across the country. Not too bad for a festival that has given Greeley, Colorado an unlikely claim to fame.

 "Yes, people wouldn't necessarily think jazz – Greeley, at first," Landry said.

Originally called the UNC Colorado College Jazz Festival, the fest was started in 1971. Spurred by the success of the University of Northern Colorado's jazz program, the festival features internationally recognized artists, along with workshops conducted by jazz experts for student levels ranging from middle school to college. Past performers include acts like Bobby McFerrin, Take 6 and Chick Correa.

The 2015 festival, the 45th edition, will bring jazz acts like the legendary Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and NBC "Sing Off" semi-finalists Groove For Thought. Audiences also will hear from UNC's Jazz Lab Band 1.

Tom Amend, a UNC jazz studies sophomore and piano/keyboard player in the band, is participating in his second festival. For him, this is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform with world renowned musicians, such as saxophonist Chris Potter.

"I've always thought about what it would be like to play with such great musicians and (here) it happens on a daily basis," Amend said.

As thrilling as it is for students like Amend to play with the greats, it's even better for the audience. Remember how Nielsen said that jazz was the least consumed? Organizer Dana Landry brushes that aside because live is the best way to appreciate the genre.

"That is how you really experience it, and I equate it to an experience you would have going to church, you know, having that uplifting, spiritual experience," Landry said.

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.