The Gene Harris Jazz Festival has been a staple of the Boise music scene for more than two decades, but as it heads into its 21st year, festival Director Dr. Derek Ganong said the nod to Boise jazz pianist Gene Harris' legacy continues to evolve.
Ganong himself is a part of that change; he took over the job of Visiting Assistant Professor of Trumpet and Director of Jazz Ensembles at Boise State University in August 2017, when past director Dr. Alex Noppe left the post. A skilled trumpet player with a Doctorate of Music in jazz and classical trumpet from the University of Miami, Ganong said the Gene Harris Jazz festival was part of the reason he took the job and moved from Florida to Boise.
"[The festival] was a big part of the interview," said Ganong, "and that application was essentially them trying to scare me off, or at least make sure I knew what I was in for."
While many popular features of the festival will remain the same—including a Headline Concert at the Morrison Center on Friday, April 6, student workshops throughout the event and Club Night concerts Thursday, April 5, featuring jazz sets across a handful of downtown Boise venues, including The Owyhee, Simplot and JUMP—Ganong has put his own spin on the proceedings. Many of the out-of-town acts are his friends and colleagues, and headliners Rosana Eckert (a renowned jazz vocalist, songwriter and arranger) and John Daversa (a three-time Grammy-nominated trumpet player) will not only perform, but also work one-on-one with BSU students.
"Our headline, big-name artists are also functioning as our judges and clinicians [this year], where in the past, those were—I don't want to say less good people, but just less famous [ones]," said Ganong. "The famous people would come in, play the headline concert and leave. But I really wanted this year to have those same people that are killing it at the Morrison Center be the ones doing the workshops and the adjudicating."
Both Eckert and Daversa said they're excited to work with Boise students on what will be their first visits to the City of Trees. Daversa said he will even sit down for private lessons with students who've reached out to him, in addition to helping run several clinics.
"There are so many musicians that I know that I'm looking forward to seeing and playing with and hearing all of their music," he said, "and Boise's such a beautiful spot on the earth so I look forward to being there."
The festival is set to take place Wednesday-Friday, April 4-6, and include more than a dozen visiting artists who will perform with local musicians. Despite the changes made over the years, Ganong said he feels Gene Harris' goal of bringing together jazz musicians of all ages, styles and backgrounds for "side-by-side experiences" is still a major pillar of the experience.