WSU gets lucky with San Francisco Jazz Collective

9:23:55 AM CDT - Thursday, March 15, 2007

By Shannon Littlejohn

When the chance came along to feed the fine arts season’s offerings with an impromptu concert by the San Francisco Jazz Collective, J.C. Combs cooked up a sizzling concert for 7:30 p.m. Monday night (March 19).

The opportunity came through Combs’ son Cory, who is assistant director of education for the San Francisco Jazz Festival. His job is to connect bands working with SFJAZZ, the company name for the festival, to schools. The San Francisco Jazz Collective, an eight-member band led by jazz great Joshua Redman, is one of those touring groups.

“Cory called me and said they’re going to be in Kansas City,” said Combs, who is professor of percussion for WSU.

SFJAZZ is a huge year-round operation and works with the top names in jazz, so of course the collective’s price tag is pretty staggering, Combs said. “But as almost a goodwill gesture, we can call it, between the SFJAZZ and Wichita we were able to get them to come to Wichita” for an affordable fee.

It’s a good deal all around, he said. While the jazz collective is here, its members will also play for and talk to youth at the Boys & Girls Club, where Combs created a samba band several years back. He and his percussion students volunteer time at the club and have expanded the music opportunities to include a steel drum band and “the Lollipop Kids,” the little ones who play triangles and bells.

Another part of the deal includes the School of Music’s relationship with Wichita’s Wesley Inn, which partners with WSU by offering motel rooms for musicians. Combs said the inn does that generously in exchange for mention in the event programs.

Combs’ connections, of course, run deeper than family after teaching and performing for 36 years. Agencies call him frequently with groups coming through.

“Of course they know what our venue is,” he said, “so if they charge an enormous amount I just say, ‘it’s a 500-seat house; I have a $15 maximum I can charge. If you can work within this parameter, great. If you can’t I totally understand.’ Many times they come back with an offer because I really spend a lot of time trying to treat them right.”

The San Francisco Jazz Collective promises to be an exciting performance, he said. It’s known as somewhat of a rarity in the jazz world as a well-rehearsed large combo that moves from notation to improvisation, from solos and duets to trios and ensembles. Its repertoire is devoted to jazz's modern expressions from roughly the mid-20th century to present day.

With Redman on tenor and soprano saxophone, the collective also includes Bobby Hutcherson, vibes/marimba; Dave Douglas, trumpet; Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone and flute; Andre Hayward, trombone; Renee Rosnes, piano; Matt Penman, bass; and Eric Harland, drums.

For the 2007 season, the group is dividing its repertoire between all-new compositions by the band members (commissioned by SFJAZZ) and the works of one of jazz's quintessential modernists, the iconic pianist, composer, and bebop pioneer Thelonious Monk.

The WSU School of Music will present the San Francisco Jazz Collective at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 19, in Miller Concert Hall. Tickets are $15 general admission with no discounts. For more information call the College of Fine Arts Box Office at 978-3233.

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