Jazz great kicks off 34th annual festival

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KALAMAZOO— International jazz composer and saxophonist Billy Drewes will join the Western Jazz Quartet in the kickoff concert for the 34th annual Western Invitational Jazz Festival at 8 p.m. Friday, March 14 in the Dalton Center Recital Hall.

The closing concert of the festival, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 15, will feature Drewes, the University Jazz Orchestra, directed by Tom Knific, and the high school big band and combo from the 30 groups participating in this year's festival. The daylong festival will feature high school big band and combo performances beginning at 8 a.m. The day’s activities are free and open to the public. Admission for the evening concert is $10.

Photo of Billy Drewes.

Drewes

Billy Drewes

Drewes is a constantly creative and in demand jazz artist who appears with Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell and Toninho Horta, and who has been a member of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra for 30 years. Drewes has appeared on over 150 records and has composed several hundred works for jazz and chamber music ensembles.

He composed a new work for the WMU Jazz Orchestra, which will premiere Saturday, March 15. His music has inspired the Western Jazz Quartet, which used his work "Firebird," as the title track of its first CD in 1992. He also composed the title track of WMU violin professor Renata Artman Knific's crossover CD, "West of Everywhere."

Photo of the Western Jazz Quartet.

Western Jazz Quartet

Western Jazz Quartet

The Western Jazz Quartet has performed from Boston to Los Angeles, and tours regularly worldwide. The quartet has been featured at festivals in Canada, Europe, and the U.S., and at a week of performances at La Villa in Paris, France.

The group was honored with sponsorship by the Arts America Program and often tours as artistic ambassadors for the U.S. Department of State, visiting countries including Brazil, Poland, Italy and Croatia. The quartet also has toured Europe four times with pianist Wlodek Pawlik, drum legend Billy Hart and jazz legend Randy Brecker.

The Western Jazz Quartet releases its sixth CD of original music, titled "Free Fall," in New York City this month. Members include Andrew Rathbun, saxophone; Jeremy Siskind, piano; Tom Knific, bass; and Keith Hall, drums.

For more information about the festival, visit wmich.edu/music or call (269) 387-4667.