The Iowa City Jazz Festival, held over the weekend, drew thousands of people to the downtown Iowa City neighborhood to see some of the best jazz concerts from across the country.
I arrived at the Iowa City Jazz Festival a little after 5:00 p.m., greeted by the sounds of the Crystal Rebone Trio – a double bass, saxophone and guitar band – and the site of thousands. While some might call jazz a dying genre, the attendance numbers show the love is still there.
Crystal Rebone, bassist for the Crystal Rebone Trio, said it’s possible that jazz has recently seen a surge in listeners due to the genre’s influence in modern hip hop.
“I think it’s kind of bringing in musicians,” Rebone said. “…there’s a big emphasis on jazz in universities and schools, so maybe that’s it too. Hopefully it continues to grow because our audience is slowly dying.
Rebone said jazz in academia is what initially attracted her to the genre.
“My high school jazz band needed a bassist. I was like, ‘Sure. Impressive.’ That’s how it happened,” Rebone said.
Rebone is also a professor of bass and jazz improvisation at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. She said she didn’t originally want to be a teacher, but her love for jazz grew as she gained experience.
Rebone said she was pleased with the turnout for the festival and hopes it will continue to draw larger crowds as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic ease.
The next band to hit the local scene was Goliath, a jazz and funk band made up mostly of University of Iowa graduate students. As I circled around, looking for spectators to talk to, the performance of the band’s drummer, Jerome Gillespie Jr., made me stop and turn around.
Gillespie’s style incorporates influences from jazz, funk and even rock or metal. Gillespie said he first got into music in church, as his father was a preacher.
“He [my dad] listened to a lot of Charlie Parker,” Gillespie said, “And I didn’t really get into jazz drumming until I was in college, when I took lessons with a great teacher in Houston, d where I come from. There was a great program there. And I took lessons with him. And the rest is history.”
Gillespie said attendance at the festival is partly due to a renewed appreciation for live music in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gillespie also said sampling played a role.
“We see a lot of popular artists sampling jazz musicians,” Gillespie said. “And there are people who want to give credit where credit is due. I think it has a lot to do with it. But I just hope it leads to a point where we all have a general appreciation for America’s original art form, which is jazz.
I then spoke to audience members Dane Tow and Emily Milefchik. Milefchik said she was drawn to jazz by the distinct nature of the music.
“I feel like throughout history it’s been one of the best forms of expression, but also, it’s also linked to a lot of activist movements. And so it’s very unique,” Milefchik said.
Milefchik said the crowds in 2022 appear to have increased from the previous year, which she says is a good sign.
“It’s kind of like maybe jazz is kind of dying out, but like this event kind of shows that’s not the case,” Milefchik said.
I think she is right. Jazz may not be flooding the Billboard Hot 100 or filling everyone’s Spotify playlists. But the influences and uses of jazz in the modern era are alive and well.