Inside Lionel Hampton

By Graham Everhart

Video courtesy of Josh Nelson

The Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, a regional competition between student jazz groups held annually at the University of Idaho, is a special experience because of how ordinary it is.

Perhaps “ordinary” has too negative of a connotation. I always enjoy Lionel Hampton. I’m part of the EWHS jazz program, and the jazz program attends every year, and every year it’s a blast.

But if we didn’t attend Lionel Hampton—if we attended some ritzy, glitzy festival in Los Angeles or New York or New Orleans instead—it would go to our heads. Lionel Hampton doesn’t pretend we’re any more important than we actually are.

The festival is distributed across several of the University of Idaho’s two dozen buildings. Many performances take place in the unsurprisingly named Lionel Hampton School of Music. Everyone eats in the Idaho Commons, a building whose most prominent features were its long lines for Qdoba and Chick-fil-A. Other buildings, like Agricultural Science and Physical Education, are timidly roped into the festival to get other departments in the University to participate. (I attended two workshops exploring the links between jazz and international relations. Spoiler alert: there aren’t many.)

But the highlight of the festival is always the night concerts.

They’re held at the “Kibbie Dome,” the U of I’s indoor athletics arena that’s shaped like an aircraft hangar. Tactically positioned black curtains obscure most of the Dome’s interior and give it some semblance of a performance hall. A diminutive statue of the late Lionel Hampton perpetually plays the vibraphone in one corner of the stage, metal-cast mallets frozen mid-solo for all eternity. Behind the stage is a squarish banner proclaiming LIONEL HAMPTON JAZZ FESTIVAL CELEBRATING LIONEL HAMPTON & THE JOY OF JAZZ, complete with two lo-fi caricatures of the namesake himself. The University doesn’t fool around.

The Friday night concert featured Paul McKee, a trombonist, and Dawn Clement, a singer and pianist. The Saturday night concert featured the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, one of New York’s most esteemed big bands. (Although no one can beat the 2017 festival’s legendary lineup of René Marie, the New York Voices, and Esperanza Spalding.)

The night concerts also featured winning student performers. Here are all the winners from Edmonds Woodway:

  • Julia Kim
    • College/Senior Vocal Solo category finalist
  • Jai Lasker
    • Senior Rhythm Section Solos category finalist
  • “Rendezvous” vocal quartet
    • Unathi Machyo, Julia Kim, Dominic Nye, Mwangi Payton
    • College/Senior Multi-Mic Vocal Ensemble category finalist
  • “Mosaic” combo
    • Natalie Whitlock, EJ Brannan, Rylan Fischer, Malachi Espinola, Jai Lasker
    • College/Senior Multi-Mic Vocal Ensemble category finalist
  • “4 of Hearts” combo
    • Liam Salas, Bryce Bunbury, Matthew Lacambra, Talli Kimani
    • Senior Combo category finalist
  • “20/20” combo
    • Dominic Nye, EJ Brannan, Rylan Fischer, Malachi Espinola, Jai Lasker
    • Senior Combo category runner-up
  • Jazz Ensemble 1
    • AAA-division big band winner
    • Sweepstakes Award winner

In other words, EW cleaned up.If you want to watch any performances from the festival, this playlist has them all.

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