For John Clayton, artistic director for the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival at the University of Idaho, the annual festival is more than a celebration of great music – it’s a powerful chance to educate and inspire students.
Since the first festival in 1967, the event has grown into chance to teach young people a uniquely American art form, as well as an opportunity for University of Idaho students to learn from jazz masters firsthand.
During the week of the festival – in 2014, it runs from Feb. 19 to Feb. 22 – the “Jazz in the Schools” program brings visiting jazz greats to elementary schools in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. Students from all age groups also come to the Moscow campus, joining UI students in meeting jazz musicians, participating in workshops, attending concerts and presenting their own vocal and instrumental arrangements. That hands-on approach motivates Clayton.
“What’s happening here is we’re talking about thousands, not hundreds, of students who touch this music,” said Clayton. “They don’t just listen to it. They actually are part of making those jazz sounds. They are part of the excitement that is part of this festival.”
Clayton, a six-time Grammy-nominated bassist, composer, arranger and conductor, joined the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival as artistic director in 2006. He facilitates artist participation in the festival, shapes the direction of concerts, and helps coordinate the student workshops and other events.
The student experience, he realizes, has an often “life-changing” impact for participants, planting a “seed” for musical appreciation that will continue to grow and serve students throughout their lives.
“That’s how the continuum works,” Clayton said. “It’s all these people who have touched this music that now move into different parts of the world, that will on their own go to jazz concerts, will on their own tell other people about this music. Therefore, it won’t die. And it will have begun right here at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival.”
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