This May will be Juneau Jazz & Classics Festival’s 31st season, but artistic director William Ransom’s first festival on the job. The founder of JJ&C, Linda Rosenthal, stepped down from her position after 30 years in 2016. She and Ransom planned this year’s lineup together.
“They did a wonderful job together,” executive director Reggie Schapp said. “This year is a half William and half Linda collaboration … They’re both musicians that love good music and are both classically trained, so it was an easy fit for the two of them to work back and forth with this year’s artists. Next year’s (festival) is about two-thirds of the way planned, so Will has done most of that already.”
The festival is planned from 18 months to two years in advance. Since JJ&C is part of the Chamber Music of America and the Western Jazz Association, organizers have made all sorts of connections with musicians in the jazz and classical fields to bring them to the capital city for the festival.
“For the first time we have a lot of individual artists as opposed to most seasons, and (Ransom) is mixing in and matching the different artists to perform different music that we’ve not had in Juneau before,” Schapp said about the artistic director. “Most of the time (JJ&C) would bring up a quartet and just the quartet would play together or maybe (JJ&C) would add in one cello but what Will does, he takes the music that he thinks we want to hear and then fits the musicians to play that music … So many of these people are solo artists on their own but he’s bringing them in, making an ensemble for one night to play a particular piece of music.”
This year has an impressive lineup: The Congress, The Vega String Quartet, Zuill Bailey, Richard Thompson, Elizabeth Pridgen, Bill Sears, David Coucheron, Leo Sanguiguit, Evan Drachman, Julie Coucheron, Gary Motley, The Defibrulators, Axiom Brass Quintet, Mae Lin, Jessica Change, and Janet Clippard.
“Basically (Rosenthal and Ransom) go out there and look for artists that are good with community involvement, with interaction with their audiences,” Schapp said. “We want people who are going to come here and be part of the community for the five to 10 days that they’re here. Not just playing music but doing outreach, being available in the community to not only play this fantastic music but to inspire young musicians and build the audiences of our future.”
Opening this year on May 5 will be a band out of Washington D.C. called The Congress, a mix of rock ‘n’ roll, soul and country.
“They’re a phenomenal blues rock group that have just been making their way up the charts,” Schapp said.
Closing on May 20 will be Richard Thompson, who was named by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the Top 20 Guitarists of All Time.
“Richard Thompson is legendary in Britain,” Schapp said. “He is the Bob Dylan of Britain. They were writing and singing songs together on two separate continents. Just this year, Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson did a tour together. So he happens to be here in the U.S., so he is coming up here.”
Both free and ticketed performances will run from May 5-20; many performers will also hold concerts and workshops in local Juneau schools. The free concerts known as Brown Bag Concerts, sponsored by Hecla Greens Creek Mining Company and Princess Tours, happen every Monday and Wednesday throughout the festival at noon inside the State Office Building’s atrium. The Princess Tour buses will bring in 100-200 elementary school students that are not within walking distance to the Brown Bag Concerts.
Other events to keep an eye out for are the dance parties, like “Puttin’ on the Ritz: Jazz Meets Classics — The Joy of Sax” on Saturday, May 13 and the “Community Day on Campus” at the University of Alaska Southeast on May 20.
For a complete schedule, go to jazzandclassics.org.