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Taking it from the top

BY VICTORIA VAUGHN | JULY 02, 2015 5:00 AM

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The 25th-Annual Iowa City Jazz Festival celebrates history and change.

There was a time when jazz was not received with a warm welcome. During the 1920s, some blamed it for supporting integration, endangering fetuses, and seducing people into sexual activity. As a consequence, jazz came to be called the “Devil’s Music.” However, as time went on and the world changed, these judgments faded. 

Today, jazz is considered one of the most popular genres, and Iowa City celebrates its richness every summer. 

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Iowa City Jazz Festival. The celebration, which will take place downtown from today through the Fourth, is a culmination of local talent and traveling professionals. For the first time this year, the festival will also feature performances at the Englert, 221 E. Washington St., and a documentary film about Charles Lloyd. 

Jazz guitarist Steve Grismore and local businessman and arts supporter Mark Ginsberg created the Iowa City Jazz Festival in 1991. Originally called the Washington Street Jazz Festival because of its location, the event has grown exponentially since then. For the first four years, the festival only took place on July Fourth. As attendance grew, organizers realized that extending the festival was the logical choice. That proved to be wise — the festival has entertained approximately 25,000 people for each of the past three years. 

Audience members have had the opportunity to see an abundance of talented headliners. Past performers include Joshua Redman, Ben Allison, John Scofield, and Ashanti, among many others. Iowa City has always been diligent in bringing these “best of best” to the area. 

This year proves to be no different. 

Just as Grismore and Ginsberg embarked on the journey to create a festival for jazz lovers, artists have come from all around the states to share their passion for music. Among this year’s performers are Colossus, the Becca Stevens Band, and KROM. For some, this will be the first year they have ever performed at the festival and on the main stage. 

“We pride ourselves on booking a festival that compares with the best in the country in terms of artistic quality,” said Don Thompson, the head of Jazz Festival.

He noted that many of the performers at this year’s festival come highly acclaimed by jazz critics. Selection of these artists is a long process — it requires months of planning and coordinating with agents. 

Thompson has found, however, that most prospective musicians respect the festival and have a desire to perform in Iowa City. 

One of those performers is Charles Rumback, a member of the band Whirlpool. He always wanted to be part of the Jazz Festival, especially after attending several times. The event continually brings him back to Iowa. 

However, his connection to music began at home. 

Rumback’s parents were consistently blasting music in the house and taking him to concerts. By 13 years old, he was pursuing music with Ralph Brown, one of his musical heroes. 

This coming weekend, he will have the chance to play with another jazz musician he admires — Ron Miles. Rumback first saw him when he performed on the main stage.

“He was wearing a black suit the whole time, and it was like a 105 degrees out there,” Rumback said.

Rumback will have the chance to share the stage with other seasoned performers as well, one being Mike Conrad. 

Conrad, who has performed in years past, will be joined by his 17 band mates. They make up the group Colossus — a name based on an X-men character and a play on the word “colossal.” They will play original music deeply rooted in jazz, with hints of pop and rock.

Though Conrad has performed several times at the Jazz Festival, this will be his first year performing as a headlining act. 

“It’s been a dream of mine to play on the main stage,” he said. 

The people of Iowa City can expect many more great performances and ranges of music throughout the weekend. If you’re looking for a blend of jazz, ’70s rock, and classical, make sure to see KROM at the Englert. If you want music with a New York flair, look no further than Ben Allison. These, among many others, are just a few of the performances festival attendees will get to hear. 

Attending the festival is free and open to the public. For more information on the times and bands performing, see the Summer of the Arts website.


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