Trumpet player Manuel Morales has one more year before his URI graduation, but he has already performed three times at the Newport Jazz Festival, the premiere jazz venue in the world. This summer he’ll do it again, joining 16 other students and alumni on July 29 as the URI Big Band takes the stage at the mother of all jazz festivals for the fourth year in a row.
“The best part of the festival is the atmosphere,” Manuel said. “I can’t explain how great the feeling is when the thousands of people there love what you do. It’s a very welcoming environment. You really feel the love from the audience.”
Every summer the Newport festival draws thousands of jazz fans from all over the world. And the band’s return engagement for the 62nd festival is a testament to the success of the URI jazz studies program, which was launched 15 years ago. Adjunct Professor Jared Sims, the director of the URI Big Band, said he has developed a strong relationship with the festival foundation, which supports the University’s annual summer jazz camp. “The foundation even provides one of the festival performers as a guest artist at our camp,” said Professor Sims. “And it gives free tickets to all of the kids who attend.”
Playing the Newport Jazz Festival is not only a great resume piece, but it also prepares us for so many other performances in the future…it gives you an idea of what being a professional musician is like.
This year’s Newport performance will be the second for pianist James Himmelman. “To perform on that stage and look out and see the crowd and the bay was spectacular. But to then watch other renowned musicians perform on that same stage gave me both a sense of accomplishment and purpose.”
James said the thing he likes best about the URI Jazz Program is the sense of camaraderie that comes with seeing and playing with his classmates every day. “The same thing applies to the teachers as well,” he said of Sims and Professors Joe Parillo, Dave Zinno, Eric Hofbauer, Steve Langone, and Mark Berney. “It’s an amazing sense of family, and it provides a comfortable place to learn and grow.”
Last year, some of the URI musicians who played at Newport did more than just perform with their classmates. They also formed the horn section for festival headliner Jamie Cullum’s band. Professor Sims said that was especially challenging for the four saxophonists, four trombone players, and three trumpeters, because they had to learn all of Cullum’s musical charts and blend in with the rest of his band. But it was also a tremendous learning experience.
“Playing the Newport Jazz Festival is not only a great resume piece, but it also prepares us for so many other performances in the future,” James said. “The preparation you have to put into it gives you an idea of what being a professional musician is like. It lets you know that you’re on the right track, and that if you keep working as hard as you have, you can make it to that level.”
Photo credit: Erin X. Smithers