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

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

Music for the missing woman in red

Indigenous Big Band pays tribute to national day of remembrance in JJ&C’s opening concert

A “music minus one” concert featuring an empty red dress at one end of the stage, in recognition of a national day calling attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women, was performed by a 16-member big band whose tribal influences span the Americas to open this spring’s Juneau Jazz & Classics festival Friday night.

The Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band took the stage at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall about an hour after hundreds of people gathered a short distance away in front of Alaska State Capitol in observance of the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The dress hanging near a loudspeaker was a somber reminder of the occasion during the largely playful two-hour concert where, at one point, Keefe quipped “it’s really fun being Indigenous. I like it.”

A red dress hanging at one end of the stage serves as recognition of the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls during a concert by the Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band on Friday night at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A red dress hanging at one end of the stage serves as recognition of the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls during a concert by the Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band on Friday night at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Keefe, a New York musician who grew up on a reservation in Idaho, is also performing a free concert with her big band at the University of Alaska Southeast on Saturday afternoon, as well as with a quintet of the band’s musicians at Crystal Saloon on Saturday night and a jam session Monday night. She opened Friday’s concert with the song “Water” by Native American sax legend Jim Pepper, one of a few tributes to legacy musicians during a show featuring originals mostly by the band members.

“A huge part of what we try to do is honor those folks whose shoulders we we stand on as musicians,” she said, introducing the song.

Tenor saxophonist Rico Jones wears a Tlingit Tin’aa, given to him and other band members by local students during a visit to Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School, as he introduces a song he composed during a concert by the Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band on Friday night at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Tenor saxophonist Rico Jones wears a Tlingit Tin’aa, given to him and other band members by local students during a visit to Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School, as he introduces a song he composed during a concert by the Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band on Friday night at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

All of the band members were wearing Tin’aas (cooper shield in the Tlingit language) made by local students for the visiting musicians who performed and answered questions Friday morning during a workshop at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School.

Six members of the band including Keefe are also scheduled to perform Sunday afternoon in Hoonah.

Notable originals during Friday’s concert included the moody three-part DDAT Suite by band co-director Delbert Anderson just before intermission and the finale “Blood Quantum” by Mali Obomsawin, an upright acoustic bassist and member of Wabanaki First Nation at Odanak in Quebec, Canada. Obomsawin led the band in a chant in her Indigenous language of Abenaki during the song, introducing it to the audience by noting ”I’m particularly honored to sing these words in my language” on the day remembering missing persons.

Bassist Mali Obomsawin leads Tlingit drummer Ed Littlefield and other musicians in a chant in her Indigenous language of Abenaki during a performance of her song “Blood Quantum” as the finale of a concert by the Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band on Friday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. She said the chant honors her people’s matriarchs and grandmothers, and a willingness to face or fight anything that diminishes their health and the health of the community. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Bassist Mali Obomsawin leads Tlingit drummer Ed Littlefield and other musicians in a chant in her Indigenous language of Abenaki during a performance of her song “Blood Quantum” as the finale of a concert by the Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band on Friday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. She said the chant honors her people’s matriarchs and grandmothers, and a willingness to face or fight anything that diminishes their health and the health of the community. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

“I think the strategy of genocide, and also missing and murdered people, fall upon us Indigenous women disproportionately” she said. “As I sing this chant and as the band joins me in singing this chant I’d like you to understand the words.”

The meaning of the chant, Obomsawin said, is honoring her people’s matriarchs and grandmothers, and standing ready to face or fight anything that diminishes their health and the health of the community.

This year’s festival schudule, which continues through next Saturday, also features a variety of other events and performers, including three brown bag noontime concerts at the State Office Building, musician master classes on Monday evening at UAS, classical performances by nationally acclaimed musicians Sunday and Tuesday nights, and blues master Phil Wiggins hosting a music cruise Friday night and dance party to close out the festival Saturday night.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

Julia Keefe sings a jazz standard made famous by Mildred Bailey, a Native American singer who rose to prominence in the 1920s, during the concert by her Indigenous Big Band on Friday night at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. She is also scheduled to perform with a quintet Saturday and Monday at Crystal Saloon. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Julia Keefe sings a jazz standard made famous by Mildred Bailey, a Native American singer who rose to prominence in the 1920s, during the concert by her Indigenous Big Band on Friday night at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. She is also scheduled to perform with a quintet Saturday and Monday at Crystal Saloon. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

Participants in a pro-choice abortion rally gather outside the Governor’s Residence on Saturday to demand a pro-choice flag flying at the entrance be taken down. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Pro-choice abortion protesters march to Governor’s Residence to demand removal of pro-life flag

Rally on second anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision also focuses on fall election.

Eddie Petrie shovels gravel into a mine cart as fast as possible during the men’s hand mucking competition as part of Juneau Gold Rush Days on Saturday at Savikko Park. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Mucking, trucking, chucking and yukking it up at Juneau Gold Rush Days

Logging competitions, live music, other events continue Sunday at Savikko Park.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Pins supporting the repeal of ranked choice voting are seen on April 20 at the Republican state convention in Anchorage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
State judge upholds most fines against group seeking repeal of Alaska ranked choice voting

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has ruled that opponents of Alaska’s ranked… Continue reading

Joshua Midgett and Kelsey Bryce Riker appear on stage as the emcees for MixCast 2023 at the Crystal Saloon. (Photo courtesy Juneau Ghost Light Theatre)
And now for someone completely different: Familiar faces show new personas at annual MixCast cabaret

Fundraiser for Juneau Ghost Light Theatre on Saturday taking place amidst week of local Pride events

Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire
A section of Angoon along the coast is seen on June 14. Angoon was destroyed by the U.S. Navy in 1882; here is where they first pulled up to shore.
Long-awaited U.S. Navy apology for 1882 bombardment will bring healing to Angoon

“How many times has our government apologized to any American Native group?”

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon announced this week she plans to seek a third three-year term. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Mayor Beth Weldon seeking third term amidst personal and political challenges

Low mill rate, more housing cited by lifelong Juneau resident as achievements during past term.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read