In 1986, back when Alaska’s only college was the Alaska Community College, Professors Karen Strid-Chadwick and Jill Flanders-Crosby had the brilliant idea to pair jazz dance with live music to create a one-of-a-kind jazz festival. Strid-Chadwick would supply the music and Flanders-Crosby would bring dancers to interpret the music.
“The idea stems back to the old ACC [Anchorage Community College], you know, back when we had money,” Strid-Chadwick laughs. “At that time, they were doing a lot in the Sheraton Ballroom because the Sheraton had just been built and I was renting out my piano a lot to the guest artists. So, my boss got this hairbrained idea that the ACC should be hosting these guest artists.”
The rest, as they say, is history. In the case of Jazz Week, perhaps storied history would be a more accurate description.
The inaugural year brought up Japanese-born Toshiko Akioyshi who had already earned 8 Grammy nominations before performing at Jazz Week. Akioyshi was followed by contemporary jazz greats Hal Galper, Jay Thomas and Rebeca Mauleon. Now in its 31st year, Jazz Week has hosted nearly 100 musicians and dancers from across the United States and Canada.
“I think jazz is our culture and I’ve always thought this was one of the things the United States of America gave people,” Strid-Chadwick says. “I always say we gave the world the blues and Louis Armstrong.”
At this year’s Jazz Week, Strid-Chadwick will be giving Alaska two world-class performers: Greta Matassa and Yngvil Vatn Guttu.
Matassa is widely considered one of the most talented singers working in jazz today and has been voted "Northwest Vocalist of the Year" by Earshot Jazz seven times in the last 15 years. In 2014, Matassa was honored with a lifetime achievement award and inducted into the Earshot Jazz Hall of Fame. Recently, Matassa has expanded her touring to include stops in Russia, Singapore and Japan which has garnered her an international following. Matassa also has ties to Alaska having served on the staff of the Fairbanks Summer Arts Jazz Festival for the past five years.
“As a touring artist, educator and jazz singer, it is always my pleasure to come into a new community and offer insights into my favorite music,” Matassa says. “I am really looking forward to meeting the local musicians and singers and sharing my wares with them.”
Matassa’s counterpart, Norwegian-born trumpeter Yngvil Vatn Guttu, is a 2 time recipient of the Rasmuson Individual Artist Award and is a Boochever Artist Award fellow. In addition to extensive touring, Guttu runs the Spenard Jazz Festival, an improvisational group in New York City and a "Purpose Built Orchestra" in Oslo, Norway.
“Although I have lived in Alaska for a while, this is the first time I have ever gotten to work with UAA and I am really excited! Greta [Matassa] is a great scat singer so I was thinking it might be fun to write her a Bear Scat,” Guttu laughs.
The duo will perform alongside UAA’s own Jazz Combos for two concerts in as many nights. Jazz fans can expect to hear jazz standards like “My Funny Valentine,” “Fly Me to the Moon” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” as well as originals from Matassa’s extensive repertoire.
UAA jazz students will also spend 3 days in workshops with Matassa and Guttu where they will hone their scat and improvisational skills.
“I am a trumpet player, I mean I sing too, but primarily I play trumpet. I really believe that you have to make music accessible to let people hear you and understand you and it’s hard to be understood on a trumpet,” Guttu explains. “When I work with the students, I want to teach them how to make their playing lyrical. I want to teach them how to reach people.”
*Originally published by the Anchorage Press