The sixth annual Yale Jazz Festival, which ran this past weekend from April 13 to 15, featured musicians Nicholas Payton, Steve Wilson and Melissa Aldana.
The three artists, considered among the best in their field, attracted over 650 people — the largest crowd in the festival’s history. The Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective, a student-run organization that hosts concerts, talks and events throughout the year, organizes the jazz festival each year.
“It was definitely our most acclaimed and diverse lineup yet,” said Elliot Connors ’20, a programming director for the collective.
Leading the festival along with Connors were Hersh Gupta ’20, a festival chair, and Nicholas Serrambana ’20, the club’s president.
The entire eight-member board of the Jazz Collective worked together to plan the festival. Work began at the beginning of the year, when board members reached out to both artist managers and the Yale community. Financing the festival proved difficult, as the Jazz Collective does not receive any guaranteed funding from the University, nor does it have an endowment to consistently supply funds. The burden of fundraising — particularly heavy given the high-profile talent brought in for this year’s festival — fell largely on the trio of Connors, Serrambana and Gupta. Although the educational aspect of the festival meant all three artists substantially cut their usual performance fees, the planning team still had to provide housing and meal accommodations to the visiting artists.
The organizers ultimately made ends meet with the help of Hopper, Morse and Trumbull colleges, several on-campus organizations, local businesses and money raised through donation boxes during the festival.
“We’re trying to scrape together sources everywhere we can,” Gupta said. “But I think that kind of outreach, while stressful, forces us to continue to make people aware of what we’re doing.”
Unlike in previous years, the organizers sought to reflect on the sociocultural implications of jazz as an institution. Payton, a trumpeter, pianist and composer, delivered a talk on Saturday afternoon that centered on his rejection of the label “jazz” in favor of “black American music,” to better highlight the style’s origins.
“Seeing his ideology, and then matching that with the intellectual thrust of the music, was so compelling,” Serrambana said.
Wilson, an alto and soprano saxophonist and a composer, performed a set rooted in black spiritual music. His sole companion, a pianist, served for two decades as a minister at a black Baptist church, and the duo incorporated some of the church’s repertoire into their set.
Aldana, a tenor saxophonist and composer, closed the festival on Sunday night at the Yale University Art Gallery, where she drew the festival’s largest crowd, numbering roughly 250. She is the first woman and the first South American to win the jazz world’s most prestigious prize, the Thelonious Monk Prize, which made her an important addition to this year’s lineup.
“Jazz has long silenced the voice of female musicians,” Connors said. “Now that we have the resources and the connections, the Jazz Collective needs to ensure that we’re at the forefront of representation.”
All three organizers called the event a success, citing the large crowds and prestige of the performers.
“The organization is growing,” Connors said. “And we’re really excited about that.”
Brianna Wu | firstname.lastname@example.org