The University of Rhode Island’s Big Band will be performing at the world-renowned Newport Jazz Festival this July, marking the band’s fourth consecutive year playing the festival.
The band will be directed for the fourth year by Dr. Jared Sims, professor of saxophone and jazz at URI. Last year, according to Sims, the music department did not do as much as he would have liked to publicize the Big Band’s performance at the festival, and this is something he’d like to change for this year.
“There are not a lot of Big Bands at the festival in general,” Sims said. “It’s a hard thing to sustain. Our group is all undergraduates, with one graduate student who is singing. We like to keep the band young.”
Recently, the URI Jazz Department has established a closer relationship with the Newport Jazz Festival through a connection to a program called the “Newport Jazz Festival Assembly,” which brings jazz performances to elementary schools. Ben Marcoux, a former student of Sims’s, was heavily involved with the creation of the assembly, along with RI Governor Gina Raimondo and legendary jazz producer George Wein, who started the Newport Jazz Festival. Â Wein, 90, started the Jazz Festival in 1954 and the Newport Folk Festival in 1954.
This year’s URI Big Band lineup features the traditional breakdown of instruments for a Big Band, with five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets and a rhythm section with drums, bass and guitar. Now in his eleventh year at URI, Sims is delighted to see the music program continue to grow and evolve, as well as to help students grow as musicians.
“It’s important to us in the jazz program to not have jazz be an end, but rather a methodology that opens doors to a lot more places,” Sims said. “We are preparing students to be successful in the musical careers, wherever that might take them.”
Sims, who chooses the music pieces and directs the band for the festival, began preparing for and thinking about this year’s festival immediately after last year’s ended. He said the reason for this is not just for preparation purposes, but also for that of learning.
“In the arts, it is really easy to become concert-oriented,” Sims said. “So it is really important that we are preparing, and also learning concepts along the way. I often see it happen that schools will have these great ensembles, but the students don’t know how to function outside of that ensemble because they have prepared so much for just that. We are doing a lot more than just playing a few pieces per year.”
This year’s Big Band consists of roughly half new members from last year’s lineup, with the saxophone section still intact. Some of these new members are freshman this year, with a few additional new members who are high school students. The reason to use these particularly gifted young students is to keep the band young, with fresh, new talent.
“One of the messages I teach in my jazz classes is that jazz is not just music that your old uncle might listen to,” Sims said. “It’s not like that. It’s the building block of so many things. You can’t be a writer if you don’t know Shakespeare.”
This year’s Newport Jazz Festival will be held Friday, July 29, to Sunday, July 31. The URI Big Band will be playing their set on the Friday of the festival.
On Tuesday, April 12, at 12:30 p.m., legendary jazz promoter and founder of the Newport Jazz Festival George Wein will be at URI to speak about jazz history and much more. This event will be free to attend and will be held in the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall. More information can be found here: http://web.uri.edu/music/event-calendar/.