By Ted Blankenship
Kansas is the source of some of the best music to be heard anywhere and has been for some time.
Wichita, for example is home to Chamber Music at the Barn, now in its 25th season at Bob Scott’s Prairie Pines venue on north Maize Road, and the Wichita Jazz Festival now nearing its 50th anniversary.
Scott, executive director of Chamber Music at the Barn, said that as he gets older he thinks more about what will happen to the concerts he and Catherine Consiglio, the artistic director, have been providing at the barn all these years.
“You always want things to go on forever,” he said, “but that’s not how things work. I don’t know whether the kids will want to continue after I’m not able to do it. They have their dreams and they aren’t always the same as your own.”
The Jazz Festival has some of the same problems, said the festival’s Gary Jones.
“Our audience is growing older as we all are,” he said, “and we know that we have to make some changes.
Chamber Music at the Barn began nearly 25 years ago when Wichita-area musicians tired of traveling to far-away summer festivals just to perform chamber music, which usually is a quartet or quintet playing music written for a group small enough to play in a room or chamber, usually without a conductor.
The Jazz Festival began nearly 50 years ago after a column appeared in the Wichita Beacon suggesting that Wichita should have a jazz festival. The column listed some famous musicians who had a Wichita connection and asked interested Wichitans to get in touch with the columnist. Some 20 people replied and the festival was born. A meeting was set up with the Wichita State University Music Department which helped set up an education program as part of the festival.
From their beginnings, both the barn and the festival involved the music education of young people.
In the early days of the festival, stage bands and individual student musicians were invited to Wichita to perform and to be taught by professional musicians. They came from all parts of the country and represented colleges, high schools and universities.
These organizations have been successful because they provided a product that people wanted and needed. But over the years, subtle changes in entertainment, an aging clientele and the Covid-19 pandemic changed things.
“We decided we had to make some changes,” Scott said. Scott contacted Jones and other members of the Jazz Festival to see what the two organizations might do together that could help both.
They formed a partnership and created a series of four concerts, A Taste of Jazz in the Garden. They are all at 8 p.m. in the Prairie Pines garden area. Dates are June 10 and July 1, July 8 and July 22. Tickets are sold by the Jazz Festival, and information is available at wichitajazzfestival.com.
The Jazz Festival in the early years featured jazz musicians known throughout the world and young musicians came from educational institutions all parts of the nation. That is no longer possible on the same scale, but students will still take part.
William Flynn, director of jazz studies at Wichita State University, is in charge of the education portion of the Jazz Festival and he will draw students from Kansas and the Wichita area to learn from performers at the festival scheduled for 2022.
Here is the lineup for A Taste of Jazz in the Garden:
June 10: Organique—features saxophone, drums, and guitar plus Hammond B-3 organ playing jazz, Afro-Cuban and popular music.
July 1: Celebrity Jazz Band—Jazz in the New Orleans Style (Dixieland).
July 8: Donna Tucker—A great voice and a frequent visitor to Wichita.
July 22: Wichita Jazz Festival All Stars — The All Stars are Bill Harshbarger on saxophone and clarinet; Bill Glenn on drums; Jim Keefer, bass; and Ken “Kentucky” White on guitar and banjo
Scott has also booked two other concerts that are different. One is Berta Rojas, who ranks among today’s foremost classical guitarists. She has been praised as “guitarist extraordinaire” by the Washington Post and by Classical Guitar Magazine as “Ambassador of the classical guitar.”
She was named a Fellow of the Americas by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for her artistic excellence. Her performances will be June 23 at 3 p.m. and June 24 and 25 at 8 p.m. at the Barn.
Scott said he is also pleased to have booked Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas and their fiddle and cello explorations of Scottish and global music.
Their improvising on the melody and the groove of Scottish tunes has helped reconstruct and revive the Scottish tradition of playing dance music on violin and cello. They have toured internationally for more than 20 years, wowing audiences at festivals and concerts worldwide.