Julia Keefe, left, guides her Indigenous Big Band through a performance at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall to open last spring’s Juneau Jazz & Classics festival on Friday, May 5, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

Julia Keefe, left, guides her Indigenous Big Band through a performance at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall to open last spring’s Juneau Jazz & Classics festival on Friday, May 5, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

Juneau Jazz and Classics adding a winter jazz festival, canceling annual fall event

New three-day Juneau Jazz Fest in February will feature music, workshops from dormant Sitka fest.

Juneau Jazz and Classics is doing its version of “spring forward, fall back” by shifting its focus to early-year events including extending its annual spring festival and a new collaborative three-day jazz festival in February, while eliminating its annual fall festival.

The annual spring JJAC festival which started in 1987 has traditionally been about twice the size in total participation as the weeklong fall event that was added several years ago, JJAC Executive Director Sandy Fortier said Wednesday.

“The fall festival was a little bit of an experiment,” she said. “And we realized that a lot of the people that come to our concerts are out of town in October. So that’s partly why we decided to go back to the longer May footprint.”

The annual spring JJAC is scheduled May 4-18, with the lineup still being determined. Last year’s spring festival took place between May 5-13.

Festival officials are still planning to bring jazz and classical musicians to Juneau for one-off events throughout the year, Fortier said.

Being added as part of the changes is the Juneau Jazz Festival scheduled Feb. 8-10, in a collaboration between JJAC and the Juneau School District. The idea was initiated when Mike Bucy, a band teacher at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School, approached JJAC about staging an event similar to one in Sitka he brought students to for many years until it was canceled last year following the retirement of its former director.

“It’s been just a fantastic experience for the kids,” he said. “They play. They hear really world-class jazz musicians play. They get to take clinics with the musicians.”

Bucy said when he learned the Sitka event wasn’t happening again this winter he contacted Fortier and Brian Van Kirk, a band teacher at Thunder Mountain High School who also brought students to Sitka, about staging a similar event here. The trio then contacted musicians and others who had visited the Sitka event to gauge their interest, getting a $10,000 donation from a California jazz organization in the process to allow the musicians to travel to Juneau.

The featured band at the jazz festival is the 18-member Kyle Athayde Dance Party, whose official website states their originals and arrangements of existing songs “ranges from images of nature to Japanese Anime scenes to Swing, Hip-Hop, and Rock grooves.” Bucy said Athayde’s father, Bob, is a longtime award-winning jazz musician and teacher first brought to the Sitka Fine Arts Camp about 20 years ago.

“His son Kyle was just a youngster then, but he kept coming back every year,” Bucy said. “And so Kyle kind of grew up there. The whole family are Julliard-trained, very high-level musicians.”

The son is now leading his own band he will bring to Juneau after previous appearances in Sitka.

“He’s gathered together this big band of really fantastic, exciting young jazz musicians that are also great teachers,” Bucy said. “And so Kyle runs a band, and his dad is going to come along and do clinics. And I’m just so excited that it’s coming to Juneau because I always get back from going to Sitka and (saying) to all the jazz guys that I know here ‘wow, you can’t believe we heard down there.’ And so I’m really excited now to bring it to not just the schools, but to the jazz community.”

One different aspect of the inaugural local jazz festival compared to Sitka is “Juneau actually has a number of jazz musicians that do perform in venues and so I want to kind of make it an all-jazz community event,” Bucy said.

The lineup currently lists seven events, opening with a free “brown bag” concert at noon, Thursday, Feb. 8, in the State Office Building. A multi-performer concert the next evening at TMHS will be followed by the Kyle Athayde Dance Party at McPhetres Hall. Saturday features a quartet of events throughout the day, ending with a free jazz jam at the Red Dog Saloon at 9 p.m.

Tickets for the paid events are now on sale and available through JJAC’s website.

Supplementing the jazz festival with the “classics” part of JJAC is a 7 p.m. Feb. 12 concert featuring soprano singer Danielle Talamantes and pianist Henry Dehlinger at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. Fortier said the close timing with the jazz festival is because the classical concert was scheduled before the new event was conceived.

“And so now it’s basically a little mini jazz and classics festival,” she said.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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