Jane Monheit, Kenny Wheeler Highlight Lawrence University Jazz Celebration Weekend’s 25th Year

Combine the vocal charisma of Jane Monheit, one of jazz’s hottest young vocalists, with the wide-ranging virtuosity of veteran trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and you have a bona fide “extravajazza” worthy of a celebration.

Monheit and Wheeler will headline the 25th edition of Lawrence University’s annual Jazz Celebration Weekend Nov. 11-12 at the Lawrence Memorial Chapel, 510 E. College Ave., Appleton.

Hailed as “jazz’s next sultry sweetie” by People magazine, Monheit performs Friday, Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. along with her quartet and the Lawrence Jazz Singers under the direction of Christine Salerno.

Wheeler, one of the jazz world’s most highly respected trumpet soloists, takes the stage Saturday evening, Nov. 12 for a 7:30 p.m. concert with the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Fred Sturm and the Lawrence Jazz Trio.
Tickets for both concerts, ranging from $15 for students to $22 for adults, are available at the Lawrence University Box Office, 115 S., Drew St., Appleton, 920-832-6749.

Growing up in a musical family on Long Island listening to Ella Fitzgerald recordings, Monheit, 27, burst on the jazz scene in 1998 as a 20-year-old singer, earning second-place honors at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Two years later she released the first of her five albums, “Never Never Land“ with accompaniment by such notables as pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Ron Carter and saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman.

Monheit’s second album, “Come Dream with Me,” which featured saxophonist Michael Brecker and trumpeter Tom Harrell, entered the charts at no. 1 when it was released in May, 2001. She made her major label debut in 2004 with “Taking a Chance On Love“ on Sony Classical, which has remained on the Billboard Top 10 jazz chart since its release. Her latest CD, “The Season,” an 11-track holiday-themed collection of Christmas tunes, was released by Epic Records in mid-October.

Her performance career has taken Monheit to Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and London’s Royal Festival Hall as well as the world’s most prestigious jazz festivals, including Monterey, JVC and North Sea. Following a 2002 concert in London, The Guardian hailed Monheit as a singer who “decorates a melody, lights up a lyric, but never loses the essential thread of the song itself.”

Born in Toronto, Canada, Wheeler, 75, has made his home in England since 1952. More than 50 years into his career, Wheeler has garnered more critical acclaim than popular recognition, but remains one of Europe’s most sought-after trumpet and flugelhorn players.

Influenced by the likes of Miles Davis and Fats Navarro, Wheeler has toured with bands led by Anthony Braxton, Ian Carr and Mike Gibbs and has collaborated with such jazz stars as Brecker and Keith Jarrett during his career.

Wheeler’s discography includes more than 20 recordings, including his 1975 solo album “Song For Someone,” which earned him Melody Maker Album of the Year honors. His most recent release, 2005’s “What Now” features Wheeler with bassist Dave Holland, pianist John Taylor and tenor saxophonist Chris Potter.

In addition to his noted performance skills, Wheeler is equally regarded as a composer, especially his works for jazz orchestras and large ensembles. He also remains an active music educator and is a member of the faculty at the prestigious Canadian Banff Workshop.

While Monheit and Wheeler may headline Lawrence’s Jazz Weekend, they are only part of the two-day celebration. More than 40 high school and middle school jazz ensembles from throughout Wisconsin and the Midwest will perform in seven educational workshop sites throughout the day on Friday.

From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, the Lawrence Memorial Chapel stage will showcase continuous performances by visiting artist and educators, Lawrence jazz big bands, combos and the Faculty Jazz Sextet. All of the Saturday daytime performances are free and open to the public

This year’s visiting clinicians include Michelle Weir, the vocal jazz director at UCLA and co-conductor of the World Youth Choir; Matt Harris, one-time pianist/arranger with Maynard Ferguson and Buddy Rich and current director of jazz studies at the University of California, Northridge; Clay Jenkins, jazz professor at the Eastman School of Music in New York and former jazz trumpet soloist with Stan Kenton, Harry James, Buddy Rich and Count Basie; Steve Sveum, instrumental music teacher at Sun Prairie High School whose jazz ensemble has been a four-time national finalist in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s “Essentially Ellington” jazz festival; and Jennifer Scovell, vocal jazz director at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minn.

Launched in 1981 as a way to bring professional jazz artists to the campus, establish a non-competitive jazz festival and promote jazz education, Lawrence’s Jazz Celebration Weekend has evolved into one of the area’s premier jazz events, hosting a veritable “Who’s Who” of jazz luminaries during its storied history, among them Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter and Diana Krall.

“When we started the festival in 1981, we had 60 instrumental students from four local high schools in attendance and presented a single concert,” said Sturm, director of jazz and improvisational music at Lawrence.

“Within five years, we had grown to the point where we had more than a thousand vocal and instrumental students coming in from 60 schools throughout the Midwest and concert headliners like Dizzy Gillespie and Gerry Mulligan. Over the years, the lure of Jazz Celebration Weekend has been the performances by international jazz stars and our unique non-competitive festival philosophy.”