Since the 1960s at the University of Idaho, the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival has brought jazz masters together with elementary, junior high, high school and college students to share and celebrate a truly American art form. The Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival has grown from a one-day event to an amazing four-day experience!
The first University of Idaho Jazz Festival took place in 1967, with a dozen student groups and one guest artist. The festival continued to grow from there — erupting onto the national stage in 1981, when thousands of students and spectators came to hear Ella Fitzgerald.
In 1984, the festival’s most important relationship began when Lionel Hampton joined the excitement in Moscow. Inspired by the enthusiasm of the students, Hamp pledged his support to the festival and, in 1985, the festival was renamed in his honor.
Now having hosted thousands upon thousands of students, spectators, and artists — including Doc Severinsen, Bobby McFerrin, Sarah Vaughn, Dizzy Gillespie, The Manhattan Transfer, and countless musicians from around the world – the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival is four outstanding days of student performances, workshops, clinics and remarkable world-class evening concerts.
The Jazz in the Schools program began in 1995. The program takes visiting musicians to elementary schools in northern Idaho and Eastern Washington to introduce students to this truly American art form. Forty-two schools participated in the 2015 Jazz in the Schools program, reaching over 9,000 K-12 students during the week of the festival.
In 2006, John Clayton — renowned bassist, arranger, composer, jazz educator and long time festival friend — became the festival's artistic director. In 2007, the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival was awarded a National Medal of Arts — the nation's most prestigious arts award. This recognition affirmed the vision shared by Lionel Hampton and the University of Idaho about the power of jazz and education to bridge cultures, inspire creativity and develop the musical leadership abilities of the next generation of jazz leaders.
As the Festival enters its fifth decade, it will continue to further Hamp's vision and legacy for perpetuating jazz music education for generations to come. With John Clayton’s great ability to educate and his love for Hamp, the festival is in good hands and is moving forward at an incredible rate.