Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival turns 40
02/22/2007 8:03 PM, AP
A tiny college town surrounded by farmland seems an unlikely venue for the annual Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival.
But this week marks the 40th straight year the festival has brought legends of jazz — and legions of jazz students and fans — to the University of Idaho campus. The festival began Wednesday and runs through Saturday.
"Artists have told me the reason this festival is so wonderful is that, in all honesty, it should never have happened," said Lynn "Doc" Skinner, who stepped down earlier this year after 31 years as executive director. "It should never have happened in Moscow, Idaho. Something happened here that was meant to be."
Management of the festival has now passed to artistic director John Clayton, a six-time Grammy-nominated bassist, composer, arranger and conductor from Los Angeles.
The festival began luring top names in 1981, when Skinner, a UI music professor, convinced Ella Fitzgerald to perform in Moscow.
Hampton first came in 1984, and began a formal association with the festival in 1985. He performed every year until his death in 2002.
While some feared the festival would die with Hampton, it has lived on.
Clayton has said his goal is to make the festival even bigger.
Expansion has been nearly continuous since 1967, when trumpeter Buddy Brisbois performed at what was called the University of Idaho Jazz Festival.
The festival went to its present four-night format in 1989. By 1992, attendance topped 22,000. In 2006 the word "International" was added to the title to reflect performers from around the world.
That's no small feat when you consider that Moscow is a town of 20,000 people located 80 miles south of Spokane, Wash. The concerts are held in the Kibbie Dome, the school's covered football and basketball stadium.
Idaho's Thursday night basketball game against No. 11 Nevada had to be moved from the dome to the old Memorial Gym because of the festival.
Some of the musicians on this year's bill include guitarist and vocalist John Pizzarelli, the Roy Hargrove Quintet, vocalist Jane Monheit, Byron Stripling on trumpet and vocals, the Clayton Brothers Quintet, the Jeff Hamilton Trio, the Four Freshmen, and James Morrison on trumpet and trombone. The Lionel Hampton New York Big Band will perform on Saturday.
In addition to nightly concerts, the festival draws some 14,000 college, high school, junior high and elementary school students from all over the United States and Canada who come to learn jazz and compete for honors.
The students are treated to workshops by the jazz masters.
After his clinic at the 1997 festival, guitarist Herb Ellis said the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival was the only one in the world where jazz greats had the chance to sit down with students and directly share their experience and knowledge.