U-M Jazz Band performs Friday at Montreux/Detroit
By BILL BROWN
NEWS SPECIAL WRITER
Though the University of Michigan Jazz Band makes its home here in Ann Arbor, much of the band’s recognition has come from outside of Michigan. In 1972, the Jazz Band received the Outstanding Band Award in the Collegiate Jazz Festival at the University of Notre Dame, and in 1979, it was offered the rare opportunity to play at Montreux, the most prestigious European jazz festival.
After years of diligent work, the U-M Jazz Band is now finally receiving the in-state recognition it so richly deserves. The band’s performance Friday at noon at the Pyramid Amphitheatre in Hart Plaza will kick off a four-day series of free outdoor concerts being presented as part of the Montreux/Detroit Kool Jazz Festival.
For the last 12 years, the Jazz Band has been under the direction of Louis Smith. A gifted trumpeter and flugelhorn player, Smith burst on the international jazz scene in 1957 with the BlueNote release “Here Comes Louis Smith.” On his next three albums for BlueNote and United Artifcts, Smith proved himself to be a brilliant soloist and a mature interpreter of Hard Bop, the style of modem jazz pioneered by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Thelonius Monk.
IN 1979, SMITH retired from public performance and jazz critics and aficionados started wondering whatever happened to Louis Smith? Claiming that he ‘wasn’t making enough to take care of my commitments,” Smith went back to teaching, an occupation he had held before producer Tom Wilson “discovered” him in an Atlanta nightclub.
Receiving his Masters Degree in music from the U-M in 1960, Smith eventually settled in Ann Arbor and became an instrumental music teacher in the Ann Arbor Public School system and the director of the U-M Jazz Band. Under his guidance, the band became an award-winner and played with him at the 1979 Montreux Jazz Festival.
A 19-PIECE ensemble, comprised of five saxes, five trumpets, four trombones, one flutist, pianist, bassist, conga drummer and trap drummer, the band members come from several of the schools within the University. One can find Economics and English majors, as well as music students, on the band’s roster.
Tomorrow’s performance marks the second time that the band has appeared at the three-year-old Detroit/Montreux Kool Jazz Festival. The band’s 1980 performance was forced inside by rain, and very few of the people who came to Detroit to see the band actually did.
In 1981, the band once again received an invitation from the Festival to appear, but was unable to do so. “You see,” Smith explains, “the Festival is held the week right before school starts. A lot of the students are still looking for housing or are working. It makes it very hard for us to rehearse.” In order to perform at this year’s Festival, the Jazz Band has had to cram 12 hours of rehearsal time into the two days immediately prior to the gig.
Trumpeter Louis Smith has directed the band for 12 years.
University of Michigan - Alumnus
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University of Michigan - Students
University of Michigan Jazz Band
Montreaux-Detroit Jazz Festival
Pyramid Amphitheatre (Detroit)
Hart Plaza (Detroit)
Ann Arbor News
Edward Louis Smith