Organizers of the Glacier Jazz Stampede are quick to challenge the stereotype that Montana is all cowboys and country music. And, they add, southern cities like New Orleans and St. Louis aren’t the only towns with rockin’ jazz.
“Montana is not just horses, hicks and cold,” said festival co-chair John Van, a member of the Montana Dixieland Society that organizes the event. “We’re educated and we have some of the finest jazz musicians in the world playing right here in the Flathead Valley.”
That local jazz culture is never more evident than that one week each year jazz musicians and enthusiasts converge on the valley for the annual Glacier Jazz Stampede.
From Oct. 2 through Oct. 5, the festival will draw about 17 toe-tapping jazz bands and individual artists to Kalispell from as far away as Southern California and the East Coast. In its 15th year, organizers expect about 3,5000 people to attend the four-day event, which features acts in the traditional, ragtime, Dixieland, big band and swing jazz varieties.
The Kalispell festival is one of the few still surviving in Montana after similar celebrations have folded in recent years. “Traditional jazz is American music,” Gary Fischer, festival co-chair, said. “It’s our heritage, but it has been slipping away. We’re trying to preserve it.”
So, even in the months between their marquee event, local jazz lovers still gather – sometimes in the most unexpected places – to keep their favorite music alive.
At noon every Tuesday a steady stream of people enter Snappy Sports Senter in Evergreen and walk past the aisles of hunting and outdoor gear and through a storage area to a community event room in the back of the building. There, members of the Rocky Mountain Rhythm Kings, the only Dixieland band in Northwest Montana, are tuning their instruments.
For the next hour, the group entertains with lively piano and saxophone solos, banjo jams and vocals on songs like “”Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” and “When You’re Smiling.” About 40 people attend the free weekly show, tapping their feet and singing along with the band.
“This type of music proceeded, and, in part, is responsible for rhythm and blues and rock and roll – it’s America’s original art form,” Karla West, the band’s leader and piano player and the founder of the Glacier Jazz Stampede, said. “Keeping it going is a labor of love.”
This week, the Rhythm Kings will play throughout the jazz festival, including a free show at noon Friday in the Kalispell Center Mall.
The main venues for the Jazz Stampede are the Red Lion Hotel, the Outlaw Inn and the Eagles Club – all in Kalispell. But the festival will also send several acts to schools, nursing homes and veteran centers in surrounding towns to play free community concerts throughout the week.
On Sunday at 11 a.m., there’s a free interdenominational gospel service featuring a festival gospel choir at the Red Lion. And Friday’s night swing dance at the Red Lion in Kalispell is usually one of the festivals most popular events. Aimed at bringing a younger crowd out to join older jazz fans, the event costs just $5 and includes swing lessons beginning before the dance at 5 p.m.
“We’re trying to work this as a whole valley event, not just Kalispell,” Van said. “We receive a lot of support from local businesses, but it’s not all just take. This is our way of giving back to the community, too, and hopefully building interest in the music.”
All-event badges are sold for $60 until Oct. 1, and for $65 after that date. People under 18 are admitted free. Day badges are available at the concert venues and cost $15 Thursday and Sunday night, $25 on Friday and $30 on Saturday and Sunday. Other community events are also held for a small cost or no fee: The Friday night swing dance at the Red Lion Inn is $5, while an interdenominational gospel service 11 a.m. Sunday is free.
Call (406) 755-6088 for credit card orders; for info call (406) 755-6088 or 752-4718 or visit glacierjazzstampede.com.
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