Get Jazzy With It: jazz festival back in Denton

By on April 24, 2014
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Caitlyn Jones // Staff Writer

Seven stages. Three days. 250,000 people. Senior jazz studies major Alex Hahn and his small ensemble will have one hour to wow the crowd at the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival this weekend at Quakertown Park.

And he isn’t even nervous.

“Being [at UNT], you get a lot of experience performing in front of people so it’s kind of natural now,” he said.

Hahn has performed in multiple places during his time at UNT and this semester he formed a small group called The Alex Hahn Crossing with fellow musicians Addison Frei and Sean Giddings on keyboard, Ronan Delisle on electric guitar, Chris Vallejo on acoustic guitar, Jake Greenburg on bass and Nolan Byrd on drums. Hahn plays alto and tenor saxophone.

At the festival, the group will serve as the opening act for the University of North Texas Showcase stage at 5 p.m. on Friday, which is also the opening day for the festival. It will wrap up Sunday, April 27.

Other UNT lab bands will also perform on the stage as well as the Zebras Contemporary Ensemble, the U-tubes Trombone Ensemble, the Mariachi Aguilas and numerous vocal ensembles.

Finding the music

Jazz studies professor Stefan Karlsson is part of the group of professors who chooses the bands who perform. He said Hahn’s group was a natural choice.

“Alex has a great personality and is such a great musical talent,” he said. “He’s at the level of most professionals and he’ll be out competing with guys in the trenches in the future.”

Hahn didn’t always want to be a musician. In fact, since his parents were musicians, he rebelled against the idea and wanted to be a sports broadcaster. Still, he began playing the saxophone at age 10 after picking it up from his father.

“I was serious about being a broadcaster and I knew a bunch about sports,” he said. “Then the spring semester of my senior year, I thought, ‘Man, I should go into music.’ It was kind of like an epiphany.”

He previously applied to several schools for broadcast and music but chose UNT after hearing positive information about the program from friends attending.

“Everything I heard about the music program before I came here is that it’s so competitive and cutthroat,” he said. “It is competitive but everyone is willing to help each other out. It’s a family environment.”

After graduation this May, Hahn will begin graduate school at the University of Southern California in the fall.

For now though, Hahn is focusing on his upcoming performance.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “Hopefully a lot of people will be there and interacting with the crowd is always really cool.”

The festival as a whole

In addition to the UNT Showcase stage, six other stages will host local and national acts including headliners Al Jarreau, The Quebe Sisters Band, Asleep at the Wheel and Brave Combo.

The festival, put on by the Denton Festival Foundation, is celebrating its 34th anniversary this year and has grown tremendously over time with attendance rising from less than 10,000 in the first few years to an expected 250,000 in this year’s edition.

The length of the festival has also been expanded, moving from one day in 1980 to two and a half days this weekend.

“The event was founded on the belief that music and art should be accessible to the public at no charge,” Denton Festival Foundation member Kevin Lechler said. “The obvious challenge is the rising production costs.”

The foundation’s budget has been growing each year, but so has fundraising. This year’s budget is $500,000 and all of the money was raised through sponsorships, memberships and the profits of foundation booths operated throughout the park during the event, Lechler said.

“This is a challenge year to year, but we stay true to the organization’s mission statement,” he said. “I don’t see charging admission anytime in the near future.”

More than music

The festival offers more than music to attendees. An art show gives artists a chance to showcase their work as well as sell it. Artists come from across the United States, some even trek all the way from Maine and Oregon.

There will also be a children’s art area where kids of all ages can find a creative outlet in clay, drawing, collage, stamp art plus other mediums. The little ones can also visit the Percussion Petting Zoo to play different percussion instruments from around the world.

Inflatables, rock climbing, face painting and a playground will also be available at the park.

The food at the festival is an attraction in itself. Typical carnival fare like hot dogs, cotton candy, funnel cakes and corn dogs will be served as well as a variety of Asian, Cajun, Mexican, Greek and Italian cuisine. Beer, wine, soft drinks, coffees and ice drinks will also be available from vendors.

English senior Rachel Gunnels went to the festival two years ago but is planning to return this year.

“I thought it was really fun and eclectic. It was typical Denton,” she said. “I’m excited for what bands are going to be there this year and, of course, the lab bands.”

This will be Hahn’s first year performing but fourth time attending the festival. He was impressed during his first visit with the size.

“When I went my freshman year, I thought ‘Oh, it’s going to be a rinky-dink little Denton thing’ and then it’s eight or nine stages and filled up the whole park. It was crazy,” he said.

After performing at the festival, the Alex Hahn Crossing will be recording a pop-jazz album in May. Following studio time, the group will go their separate ways. Hahn shares the same feelings of many soon-to-be-graduates.

“Four years of being with the same people and with my best buds that I’ve met here is over,” he said. “I’ve got a clean slate and I have to start all over in a new city. It’s nerve-wracking but exciting at the same time.”

Feature photo: Local Denton band Brave Combo preforms at a past Denton Arts and Jazz Festival. The festival is held at Quaker Park in Denton annually. Photo courtesy of Denton Arts and Jazz Festival Facebook page. 

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