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The scene last night at the Tryon Festival Theatre at Krannert Center was nothing like the small, smoky underground clubs from which the art form of jazz came. In fact, it was interesting to place the formal theater atmosphere amongst the theme of the night: how to appreciate the roots of jazz and alarmingly, due to Hurricane Katrina and the molasses-like effort to fix New Orleans up, how to ensure it’s preservation.

Irvin Mayfield, a young and wildly talented composer, led the 16-piece band through numerous tunes, all dedicated to lifting up the spirit of the people that have fought so hard to keep jazz at the center of their worlds. After a brief movie, telling the audience a little about the project, the house lights came up and stayed up, and the crowd hooted and hollered through the 90-minute set anyway. When it came time for silence, there was silence. And when there was an opportunity to yell, there were voices. The soloists were treated the way they are supposed to be treated: with much applause and to the delight of the mostly 50+ crowd.

Having such talent in town is a rare treat for a place like Champaign-Urbana. And while we are filled with the opportunity to listen to and appreciate great live jazz on a regular basis, I think that seeing a show like this is a good reminder for people to try to recognize how important roots are to any particular art form. Fortunately for us in this part of the United States, the roots of jazz are literally a train ride away.

Photos by Justine Bursoni