Jazz musicians and Pittsburg community members gathered inside the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts for the opening concert of the Pittsburg Summer Music Fest: Jazz Under the Stars.
Jazz Under the Stars featured two separate bands this year, comprised of a student jazz combo and a jazz big band. While the Jazz Under the Stars performance typically takes place outside on the Bicknell front lawn, this year weather did not permit, and the performance took place inside instead.
“We wanted so bad for it to be under the stars, but because the rain didn’t collaborate with us early, so we have a beautiful evening; right now, the ground is too wet,” said Raul Munguia, professor of music. “But we wanted Jazz Under the Stars to be a sunset kind of a concert where people just cool and chill outside and listen to nice big band jazz. But still, we’re going to have the sunset right here through the windows. This is the opening night for the Pittsburg Music Festival …”
Participants who played in Jazz Under the Stars were a mix of Pittsburg State students and Pittsburg residents. The musicians ranged in age and experience; many have performed in the concert previously.
“Oh, they’re great,” said Bob Kehle, director and professor of music. “I’ve worked with these people on various capacities for several years. They’re all top-notch, excellent, even those who are new into it this year … So, it’s a good bunch…”
Even though the concert took place inside instead of outside like usual, Kehle still felt confident it would be a good concert for different reasons.
“We’re obviously inside, largely because I think the grass outside is wet, muddy, would not be a comfortable place to sit, and of course we’ve had the off-and-on rain,” Kehle said. “This will be fun to do this in here because it’s setting than even outside. But we want it to be informal. That’s one of the reasons why we put it here as opposed to the main hall because it keeps it a little more informal and that’s the idea, to be informal.”
When choosing music for the concert, Kehle took different things into account, such as what he felt the audience would like to hear. Kehle said the first two songs played were more patriotic and that they would “move from there” afterward.
“Well I pick a couple things. I pick what I think the crowd would like, another that the band would like, and things we can put together in one rehearsal,” he said. “…The band is a great band, so I can pick some difficult pieces and then I usually balance it with some that are a little easier but some standards and things that I think everybody will really like and enjoy in one way or another. So, it’s a real mix.”
When preparing for Jazz Under the Stars, the musicians only had one rehearsal before the performance date.
“Well, it’s a challenge in the way that the director, Bob Kehle, has to make a call for everybody and see who’s available and who wants to participate,” Munguia said. “In this case we have a combo of students performing, but at the same time we have a community big band that is going to be performing after this…”
Munguia said that the performers “love doing this,” and Sam Ortiz, performer and Pittsburg community member, agreed.
“Oh, I love being part of this band,” Ortiz said. “Every year Bob asks me to play and I love doing this stuff and sight-reading the charts the night before or something like that. It’s great.”
Ortiz was one of the few musicians who had the opportunity to play a jazz solo during the performance.
“I’m partial (to solos) because I like doing improve and so being a soloist is a part of me doing jazz,” Ortiz said. “So, I love doing it.”
Kiel O’Neal, sophomore in accounting, is also a music performance major and played with the student jazz combo. This was O’Neal’s first time performing in Jazz Under the Stars.
“I thought it was really good, I enjoyed it,” O’Neal said. “…I think my combo was fun and it was good opening it up with them… I liked just like the crowd really reacted, like if we played something they would like immediately applaud and it was just cool to hear the audience. I also really enjoyed listening to them also, I thought that was a good time to open to them and then be able to listen to them play. So, that was a good time.”
For O’Neal, he enjoys that the university holds the Summer Music Fest in the summer, as it is beneficial to both the community and student musicians.
“I think it’s a really cool idea and like a really good thing to do,” O’Neal said. “I think it’s just hard because a lot of people leave, so it’s like ‘well, who’s here?’ so it’s just kind of whoever is left, but I think it’s a really good idea and I think it should be pursued and continue to happen.”