While most performances found at the University of Idaho”s Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival are mostly instrumental, one group is bringing something different to the table – their voices.
One of these voices will be Ruben MacKenzie, a senior at the university majoring in music education and a UI Jazz Choir member.
MacKenzie said Jazz Fest, which he has participated in for all four years of college, is one of his favorite times to perform.
“I love it, it’s one of my favorite things we do all year,” MacKenzie said.
This year he said he is looking forward to Dee Daniels helping the choir during their performance.
Daniels, he said, has not participated in Jazz Festival since MacKenzie’s freshman year.
“We’re excited she’s coming back,” MacKenzie said.
Many choir members are involved with other aspects of Jazz Festival, said Bill Cole, who has been participating in Jazz Choir for 21 years. Cole said he volunteered at the festival during his first year at UI and was the driving coordinator by the end of college.
Cole worked with the festival for a total of 8 years full-time after graduating.
Cole said the leaders of the Night Crew, a group of student volunteers who set up performance sites, have also been Jazz Choir members in the past.
“I’m in Jazz Band also and I work with the night crew,” MacKenzie said.
Outside of the Jazz Festival, members of the choir participate in performances throughout the year, including at the holiday concert held annually in the Kibbie Dome and at the World Music Celebration, Cole said. He said they also put on Mom’s Breakfast for Mom’s Weekend.
Natalie Wren, a vocal performance major, said she originally wanted to be in the choir after seeing them perform every year at the holiday concert.
“Ever since I was a little kid I thought, “Wow, if I ever go to U of I, I have to be in Jazz Choir,”” she said.
Wren said Jazz Choir is refreshing compared to other groups she’s participated in at college.
She said she became involved her sophomore year, and became part of Jazz Choir II her junior year.
Dan Bukvich, director of both choirs, said Choir II is a fairly normal choir.
Cole said involvement in Choir I is usually a prerequisite to becoming a member of Choir II. Usually, a member of the choir approaches Bukvich with the desire to become more involved, he said.
“It’s less about you being an amazing voice or an amazing talent and more about being dedicated to the craft,” Cole said.
Cole said it does not matter what majors people are, they can come sing with the choir at any time. Although many people in the choir are signed up for the class, Cole said it is an open choir and anyone can show up at any time.
Bukvich said he is the longest serving ensemble conductor in UI’s history. In the 38 years he has been conducting it, the choir has grown from eight members a semester to an average of 150, he said.
“Choir I is the unique choir,” Bukvich said. He said 15 years ago the choir was a capella, but is now accompanied by percussion. He writes all of the music for the choir, he said, and thus there are many original songs for members to sing.
“Literally no other university anywhere has anything like it,” Bukvich said.
Members of UI”s Jazz Choir will perform at the festival at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26 in the Kibbie Dome.