Gig of the Week: PSC’s 25th Jazz Fest
By Jessi Virtusio Gig of the Weekemail@example.com February 20, 2013 2:45PM
Orbert Davis will perform at Prairie State College's 25th annual Jazz Fest on Feb. 22 in Chicago Heights. | Michael Jackson photo
PRAIRIE STATE COLLEGE’S
♦ 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22
♦ 202 S. Halsted St., Chicago Heights
♦ Tickets, $15 for general admission, $10 for students and seniors
♦ (708) 709-3500
Updated: March 23, 2013 6:10AM
When she started Prairie State College’s Jazz Fest, Valerie Nicholson was a part-time faculty member.
Now, 25 fests later, she’s a professor of music and the coordinator of performing arts at PSC in Chicago Heights.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” she said of the first festival.
“Fortunately, Bunky Green and the other clinicians who were here the first year were very supportive, as were the directors and the students and the school itself.”
Calling Green one of the finest alto saxophonists in the United States, Nicholson shared how the then-Country Club Hills resident had a high fee for music clinic work.
Luckily, Green’s wife, Edith, was able to work with Yamaha, which sponsored him at the time, to bring him in for the festival.
“He’s not a household name like Charlie Parker, but he is definitely one of the most important American musicians,” Nicholson said of Green.
The idea for Jazz Fest came after she was asked to judge a festival at Bloom High School in Chicago Heights where Roland Rose was the band director at the time.
That Bloom event was also where Nicholson met saxophonist Ed Petersen, who will be performing at the Jazz Fest on Feb. 22.
“I was so impressed with him,” Nicholson said of Petersen, who was then teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“He was very thorough with his critique of the high school bands and had this wonderful university band he was leading.”
That mentoring spirit is integral to Jazz Fest, which includes daytime instrumental clinics for local junior high and high school jazz musicians, with some picked to perform at the concert.
“Ed Petersen has been mentored very closely by the great Von Freeman,” Nicholson said.
“So if it were not for Von taking Ed under his wing when (Ed) was a teenager, Ed wouldn’t sound like he does now.
“We have in the arts this idea of looking forward and embracing the past.”
The 25th annual Jazz Fest will feature performances by Petersen, Nicholson on piano, Orbert Davis on trumpet, Ernie Adams on drums and Larry Gray on bass.
“This year, for the first time, the Southland Jazz Ensemble is performing,” Nicholson said.
“The musicians for the most part are drawn from the south suburbs and the South Side of Chicago.
“It’s building on this thought of ‘Hey, look what’s here. Did you know that your next-door neighbor could honk away on the trombone like this?’
“I think we just aren’t aware of what we have here.”
The Jazz Fest also will feature the fourth annual Howard Luckey Excellence in Jazz Leadership Award being presented to PSC adjunct music faculty member Phillip Crews.
The director of the Prairie State Community Concert Band, Crews also has nurtured jazz musicians at Thornton Township High School in Harvey and Rich Central High School in Olympia Fields.
“(He) is just a phenomenal musician and teacher, and certainly one of the country’s finest,” Nicholson said.
Jessi Virtusio blogs about music, movies and much more in Elaborating on Entertainment at blogs.southtownstar.com/entertainment.