C-U celebrates its first International Jazz Day

Jazz enthusiasts can look forward to an evening of historical films, musical performances and food and drinks — all centered around jazz. Champaign-Urbana will have its first Jazz Day on Tuesday, a day before the International Jazz Day. 

“The U.S. State Department has a program where they send U.S. culture to the rest of the world. Jazz is often what they send because it is one of the U.S.’s greatest contributions to culture,” said Barbara Ford, director of the Mortenson Center for International Library Programs and a founding member of the local United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 

The night will start out at 5 p.m. with the UNESCO “Jazz Film Fantasy,” a three-film screening, taking place at the Art Theater in downtown Champaign. 

Sam Reese, University music professor, will introduce each short film. Participants will view “St. Louis Blues,” “Black and Tan Fantasy” and “Date with Duke.” Following the short film showings, the Traditional Jazz Orchestra will play at the Esquire Lounge in Champaign from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The Traditional Jazz Orchestra is C-U’s local jazz orchestra, with musicians from the University and the surrounding community. The Esquire Lounge will also feature a special on “Black and Tan” drinks, in light of the “Black and Tan Fantasy” short film on Duke Ellington. The name “Black and Tan” comes from interracial bars during segregated times.

“We have so many great jazz musicians in the area, partly because the University has a great jazz program,” Ford said. 

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In 2011, UNESCO designated April 30 as the official International Jazz Day. UNESCO’s mission, “Building peace in the minds of men and women,” promotes global cultural awareness. Ford said the UNESCO Center for Global Citizenship in Champaign was launched and inaugurated in April 2013 by people who wanted to appreciate culture from around the world. Ford is also a member of the committee of about six people from both the University and community. 

This is the first year Jazz Day events will be held in the Champaign area, but Ford expects about a hundred people or more, because “jazz has a large following.” The events are sponsored by the UNESCO Center for Global Citizenship, the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music and the Conservatory of Central Illinois, with the support of the University’s Center for Global Studies, and other donors. 

According to Ford, because jazz is rather informal compared to some other musical styles, the number of musicians varies depending on how many people are in attendance. John Bennett, a Jazz Day committee member and a humanities faculty member at Lake Land College, said that there will probably be around seven performers for the night. He said that having Jazz Day events take place in Champaign came about with the help of University sponsorship.  

The Center for Global Studies is also a supporter of UNESCO. All people involved with the planning of Jazz Day are volunteer students, faculty, staff and community members. 

Participants will have the opportunity to hear jazz styles primarily from the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, such as swing and stride, said Scott Schwartz, director and archivist for Music and Fine Arts of the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music. The films features blues and big band jazz. 

“Your feet will not be able to sit still,” Schwartz said. 

He also said that a focus of UNESCO’s Center for Global Citizenship in Champaign during Jazz Day is to present C-U’s local music scene. He said he knows of “a bunch of people who like jazz, and quite frankly, want to hear more jazz played.” Prior to coming to the University, he was an archivist in the Duke Ellington collection at the Smithsonian Institution for over 10 years. 

“We will highlight the good, the bad and the ugly in American music,” he said, referring to the genius of jazz as well the racism it faced during previous decades. “Ellington and others had to work within those non-(politically correct) times to create kick-ass music.” 

While C-U’s first Jazz Day event will feature mostly American jazz styles, Ford said they are hoping to feature more international jazz in future events. 

Victoria can be reached at [email protected].