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Gala marks a decade of Jazz Under the Stars

June 16, 2008

Gala marks a decade of Jazz Under the Stars

Warm summer nights, picnic dinners, stargazing and the soothing sounds of jazz all add up to the PLU summertime favorite Jazz Under the Stars. For a decade, the free outdoor concert series has brought popular Northwest jazz musicians to the Mary Baker Russell amphitheater. The concerts, held weekly in July and August, attract nearly 200 people each week.

“We’re proud to have sustained a professional-level summer jazz concert series for ten years,” said David Joyner, director of jazz studies and producer of the concert series.

“It is a testament to PLU’s commitment to America’s unique cultural treasure, the wealth of jazz artists in the Northwest and the discerning tastes of the Jazz Under the Stars audience,” he continued.

To mark the milestone, an extra concert is being added to the line-up this summer. The Jazz Under the Stars 10th Anniversary Gala features a unique double bill, renowned jazz musicians Pearl Django and Greta Matassa, at the Museum of Glass on Tuesday, July 8 at 7 p.m.

It’s only fitting that Pearl Django returns for the special performance, Joyner said. After all, they were the band that started it all in 1998.

That’s the year the idea for the concert series was born. Judy Carr, former dean of summer sessions, and music professor David Robbins wanted to showcase the recently completed amphitheater and decided to host an outdoor concert featuring the gypsy jazz group.

With the amphitheater’s favorable acoustics and intimate setting, it seemed fitting to host an annual concert series. Organized by former jazz studies director Don Immel, the first official Jazz Under the Stars concert series premiered July 8, 1999, with Seattle jazz trumpeter Jim Sisko and his group. Joyner took over the reigns when he came to PLU in 2001.

Since assuming the role of JUTS producer, Joyner’s strived to introduce new talent while also featuring a few encore performances by previous artists. This displays the abundance of jazz talent in the region, featuring professionals from Portland to Seattle, Joyner said.

The 10th anniversary gala performers, Pearl Django and Greta Matassa are among the Northwest’s best.

After more than 12 years in existence, Pearl Django continues to be one of America’s most respected and busiest “hot club” style groups. Their music transcends simple categorizations, as it includes nimble, intricate guitar picking, French and gypsy accents and influences from jazz and new swing music.

Meanwhile, Greta Matassa is one of the most talented singers working in jazz today. Voted “Best Jazz Vocalist” in the Northwest four times by the readers of Earshot, Seattle’s jazz magazine, her one-woman musical tribute “Ella and Billie” has won critical acclaim. She’s performed at KPLU’s annual Christmas Jam, and has released four CDs and a DVD live concert.

The remaining six concerts return the MBR amphitheater beginning July 10 and occur weekly through August 14. Concerts are Thursday at 7 p.m., and are free and open to the public.

Pura Vida Coffee will provide free coffee and complimentary star charts will be distributed at each performance. Stargazing opportunities will be available at the W.M. Keck Observatory following the final three performances on July 31 and August 7 and 14.

In the event of rain, the performance will be held in Lagerquist Concert Hall.

This year’s lineup includes:

  • Olympia vocalist Dennis Hastings July 10
  • Trumpeter Lance Buller and vocalist Stephanie Porter July 17
  • Greg Williamson’s Pony Boy Records All-Star Big Band July 24
  • Tacoma-based trio Hip Bone July 31
  • Vocalist Gail Pettis August 7
  • The David Joyner Trio August 14

For more information about the concert series or the scheduled performers, visit the music department’s Jazz Under the Stars Web site or call ext. 7602.

Jazz Under the Stars is co-sponsored by PLU Summer Sessions, PLU’s Department of Music, 88.5 KPLU-FM, Prosser Piano Company and Pura Vida Coffee.