When the St. Louis Jazz and Heritage Festival folded in 2008, the Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival, which starts tomorrow at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Missouri - St. Louis, became the biggest local festival featuring touring jazz musicians.
Since then, Jim Widner, the bassist and veteran jazz educator who directs both the GSLJF and UMSL's jazz program, has expanded the festival's lineup of guest artists, adding major headliners for the weekend evening shows to augment the musicians who serve as adjudicators and clinicians during daytime sessions with student bands from around the area.
This year's festival features two stellar attractions - the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra on Friday, and bassist Ron Carter's Golden Striker Trio with pianist Mulgrew Muller and guitarist Russell Malone on Saturday. The VJO, descended from the big band founded in 1965 by trumpeter Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis, has been a Monday night fixture for more than 40 years at the famed Village Vanguard in New York. Carter, who first gained fame as part of Miles Davis' classic 1960s quartet, is one of the most recorded and most influential jazz bassists of the past 50 years, but hasn't played in St. Louis since the mid-1980s.
The UMSL jazz ensemble, directed by Widner, will open both shows, and will be joined onstage by St. Louis native Clark Terry, the legendary trumpet player who previously galvanized the crowd as a guest artist at the 2006 GSLJF. "When he hit that stage, the audience came out of their seats,' said Widner. "It took my breath away."
Though Terry, who turned 90 last year, has health problems that prevent him from playing his horn any more, he'll be vocalizing on one of his signature numbers, the mush-mouthed blues parody "Mumbles." "We're bringing him out just to do "Mumbles" with the band," said Widner. Offered a comparison to the baseball Cardinals' veneration of Stan Musial, Widner agreed, "When you've got a living legend like that, you want to get him out any time you can."
Shows start at 8 p.m. Friday, April 15 and Saturday, April 16. Tickets range from $8 to $35, and can be purchased through the Touhill website.