In New York, Chicago or New Orleans, a person can hardly walk a block without tripping over a jazz club. Live jazz on the Kenai is harder to find.
Though we don’t have a club dedicated to jazz here, fans can still get their groove on to the stylings of Barney McClure, an internationally acclaimed jazz pianist and recording artist, in concert with Mike Denny, guitarist, and Diamond Fuller on drums. The Performing Arts Society in collaboration with the Kenai Peninsula College Showcase will present the trio at 7:30 p.m. Friday at KPC.
The group will come directly from University of Alaska Anchorage Jazz Week, where they are presenting workshops and a concert as part of the university’s annual celebration of jazz.
So what is the state of jazz in the 49th state?
“There is not a strong jazz appreciation in Alaska, and I see teachers here really struggling to be able to make it more appreciated. Jazz/blues is the only cultural contribution from the United States to the world, and it is least appreciated in the U.S.,” McClure said by e-mail.
“As the last frontier, Alaska has not really been a place where people had that kind of time or energy when their interests may be more outdoors related.”
Fuller, the drummer, is an early career musician, mentored by McClure. He is hopeful about the place of jazz in Alaska’s music scene.
“The music scene here in Alaska is steadily working its way up, slowly but surely, it’s coming along. There are a lot of musicians here finding their own way into the circle of music, which is a very hard thing to do,” he said by e-mail.
So what can interested jazz audience members expect?
“In that we are a jazz group, our material is based on improvisational concepts. We tend to approach our concerts similarly in that we do not provide a ‘set’ list of what we are going to play. More often than not, we are sensing both the mood of our audience and our own mood before we commit to the next piece to play.
“Our music, for the most part, is original compositions. This, too, is fairly typical of a jazz group. That is not to say that we won’t perform a jazz or standard classic in our program as we cherish the good tunes as much as anyone. Most jazz groups are recognized by their style and compositions which are almost always original,” McClure said.
Denny, the guitarist, has been on the faculty of the University of Oregon, Eugene, since 1995. He and McClure played together for the first time last summer and clicked. Denny looks forward to the inclusion of Fuller.
“Mostly, if not all are originals by myself and Barney. I’d say we play mainstream jazz with touches of Latin and blues. While the drummer is new to me, I expect to have a a fine rapport with him and am looking forward to the new experience. Barney and I have a great rapport and it should be fun for the audience,” he said.
All three look forward to the opportunity to share their talents in a smaller community.
“I have always liked performing in smaller communities because it’s more intimate,” Denny said.
“Periodically, a smaller community will have a single person, or just several, who have a strong passion for jazz. They will be the catalysts for causing a concert to happen, for artists to be invited, and for spreading the word about their choice of music.
“Inevitably, when people see and experience jazz being performed whether they understand it or not many become devotees. Couple that with the fact that smaller communities generally are more appreciative of ‘big city’ quality shows in their own hometown and make us feel more personally appreciated.”
The concert will be held in the Walter E. Ward building at the college.
Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for students. Advance tickets are available in Soldotna at River City Books, Sweeney’s and North Country Fair and in Kenai at Already Read Book, Charlotte’s and the KPC bookstore.
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