The foot of a single soldier opened the 2008 Little Apple Jazz Festival as the rainy morning sky filled with sunshine.
Within seconds, the entire First Infantry Division Big Band from Fort Riley appeared on the main stage to kick off six hours of jazz performances at the Larry Norvell Band Shell in Manhattan City Park. The group, which formed in 1943 and is comprised of 18 members of the U.S. Armed Forces, has been busy spreading not only American freedom, but what festival emcee David Whitman called the only truly American art form.
Whitman, a K-State graduate with a master’s degree in percussion performance, said the draw to jazz music today is the idea that it is “wholly American.”
“Jazz is the only truly American art form, and to be able to celebrate it the day after we celebrate the birth of our nation is incredible,” he said.
Whitman, who served as host of the event last year as well, said the most gratifying part of the day is watching people enjoy jazz.
“It’s great to be around jazz and see the work [of the event’s planners] come to fruition,” Whitman said.
Following the First Infantry Division’s Big Band performance, the High School Jazz All-Stars took to a second stage, followed by a main stage performance from El Mambo Orquestra, a Kansas City jazz ensemble that blended jazz, mambo, cha-cha and reggae together for a set that quickly had audience members dancing along.
The Kelly McCarty Trio, which featured an eight-string guitar, saxophone and drum, was headed by K-State graduate Kelly McCarty and provided an easy-listening modern jazz instrumental bridge from the rhythmic sounds of each performance.
As the sun began to set on the park, The New Red Onion Jazz Babies took the main stage and caught the audience by surprise, delivering an energetic and humorous glimpse into the thriving world of classic Dixieland jazz.
Armed with a banjo, keyboard, trombone, tenor horn, tuba, drums, cornet and clarinet, the seven-piece jazz group kept hundreds of festival attendees laughing with stories, jokes and humorous songs.
By the time this year’s festival headliner, The Lisa Henry Jazz Group, began a quick sound check, the audience had grown considerably in anticipation for the nationally recognized singer and her band.
While many jazz groups dot America’s musical landscape, Beth Bailey, media relations director for Union Program Council, said that after seeing the group perform at the Smoky Hill River Festival in Salina last year, she knew The Lisa Henry Jazz Group was just right for the Manhattan festival.
Whitman said jazz is based on improvisation and Henry emphasized that point by introducing her band through a song that relied on immediate audience interaction.
This was the eighth year the Manhattan Parks and Recreation Department and UPC worked together to bring jazz artists from across the region to Manhattan residents.
Bailey said the festival has moved from Colbert Hills to Bosco Student Plaza before landing at the Larry Norvell Band Shell in City Park. After extensive planning with a committee of K-State students and faculty, as well as Manhattan community members, six jazz groups were selected to play at this year’s event.
One of those committee members was Courtney Smith, junior in marketing and UPC summer programs co-chair.
It will be up to Smith and co-chair Jennifer Heiman to decide the future of UPC’s involvement in the Little Apple Jazz Festival.
Smith said she hopes to continue UPC’s relationship with Parks and Recreation into next summer and sees potential for an equally sucessful event next summer, in addition to bringing more events like the festival to campus for students during the slower summer months.
Audience members from all generations experienced “Jazz at the Core,” this year’s theme, and the performers proved that jazz is, as Whitman said, an American art form that anyone can enjoy.