Annual jazz festival to feature ’50s vocal ensemble

This weekend, the past will meet the present in a concert by popular ’50s vocal group The Four Freshmen during the 31st annual TCU Jazz Festival.

To open this year’s festival, the TCU Jazz Ensemble will play with The Four Freshmen in a concert featuring the quartet’s greatest hits Friday evening.

While the quartet has been in existence for 60 years, current members have each been part of the group for less than 20 years. The current lead singer is the third lead singer in the quartet’s history, according to the group’s Web site. Although the faces are different, the music remains the same.

“I think some people hear our music and completely fall in love with it,” said Curtis Calderon, trumpeter for The Four Freshmen.

The Four Freshmen is the latest addition to the list of major jazz artists who have performed at the festival. Curt Wilson, director of jazz studies and professor of music, said he created the festival in 1978 to enhance the presence of jazz music on campus. The festival has featured several well-known jazz musicians, including Hank Levy, Don Menza and Urbie Green, in performances with the TCU Jazz Ensembles.

“We’ve had a major world-class artist perform with us every year, and that’s something I’ve been consistent about,” Wilson said.

Saturday’s events include an all-day competition featuring 28 high school and middle school jazz ensembles to conclude with an awards concert. Wilson said there is a waiting list of bands interested in performing, but he is limited to the 28 spots.

“Our reputation has grown over the years so that only the good bands come to our festival,” Wilson said. “Weak bands don’t come because they’re going to get eaten alive.”

Headlining Saturday evening’s show is trombonist and Dallas native Senior Master Sgt. Joe Jackson, who will also work with younger musicians during a Saturday training session.

Jackson is the lead trombonist in the U.S. Air Force “Airmen of Note” band, which he directs in addition to performing with big bands on the East Coast.

“Any time I can get out and work with younger players, it’s a great experience for me,” Jackson said. “This is also a chance for me to come home and entertain the folks in my life.”

To add a TCU twist, Jackson will play one song with assistant professor of saxophone Joe Eckert, who is a retired conductor for the Airmen of Note.

“We played together for 13 years while we were in the band at the same time, so our relationship is pretty long in that sense,” Eckert said. “It will be nice to see him and play with him again.”

Wilson, who has taught jazz at TCU for more than 30 years, said that while jazz is not extremely popular, he would like to see those in attendance gain an appreciation for the art form.

“It’s a connoisseur’s art – it’s not art for the masses,” Wilson said. “You’ve just got to think too hard to appreciate it.”