20 Years of Jazz

By Beacon Staff

For two decades, enthusiasts of old-time jazz have gathered in Kalispell in the fall to celebrate music, community, and relationships that have grown over time at the Glacier Jazz Stampede.

This year, the festival takes place Oct. 3 to Oct. 6, with traditional, ragtime, Dixieland, big band and swing jazz performances taking place in locations throughout Kalispell: the Red Lion Ballroom, Eagles and the Fireside Lodge.

Karla West, who started the festival in 1994 with a friend and is the current festival director, said she’s excited to see how the festival has grown in popularity and influence in the jazz world, from its inception as a small get together to a four-day event that garners anywhere from 500 to 600 people who buy tickets.

“I had been going to festivals and playing at festivals throughout the country and we decided back in 1994 that it would be a good thing for Kalispell to have a festival like that because all the music is so good, in a happy style like that,” West said.

West said she was drawn to the early style of jazz from the 1920s, and played that music as a piano player. This is the music that eventually evolved into swing and big band styles, she said, and then had a revival in the 1950s on the west coast.

Festivals started popping up in California and Washington, and soon the popularity spread. After attending such events, West said she and her friend decided to try it out in Kalispell.

It took a little cajoling and education to help people understand just where Kalispell was, she said, but the music kept drawing them back.

“It just kind of started growing, took on sort of a life of its own,” West said. “Little by little, the word got out and we’ve enjoyed a very good reputation throughout these 20 years with all the jazz fans.”

A big part of the draw is the musician lineup, which West has taken great care to cultivate over the years.

This year, the lineup includes the Yerba Buena Stompers from New York; High Sierra of Three Rivers, Calif.; the Blue Street Jazz Band from Fresno, Calif.; the locally known Don Lawrence Orchestra; the Flathead Ragtime Society Orchestra; Grand Dominion; Ivory and Gold; La Nota Jazz and Blues; West’s own Rocky Mountain Rhythm Kings; the Swinging on High Big Band; the Titan Hot 7; and the Uptown Lowdown of Bellevue, Wash.

Audience members come from all over the United States and Canada, West said, and the festival has drawn acts from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Another mainstay of the jazz stampede are the daily, free public concerts that take place at the Kalispell Center Mall at noon on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Chuck Martin, left, drums out hot jazz rhythm as Martin Jones keeps a bass beat on the tuba during the Glacier Jazz Stampede’s free community concert. – File photo by Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

The free concerts start on Tuesday, West noted, when her band the Rocky Mountain Rhythm Kings play at Snappy Sport Senter.

The opening ceremonies for the festival are on Friday, Oct. 4, at 3 p.m. at the mall, during which there will be music and a costume party, with the theme of the Roaring 20s. There will be prizes for costumes, including gift cards to local restaurants, West said.

And on Sunday morning, there is a free gospel service featuring local high school singers and the Don Lawrence Orchestra, taking place at the Red Lion Ballroom.

The Glacier Jazz Stampede not only provides musical enjoyment, West said, but also boosts the local economy, with audience members staying at local hotels and eating in restaurants.

It’s an overall positive, fun event for the Kalispell community, and West believes the festival will continue entertaining audiences for years to come.

“It’s continued to be a very successful festival,” she said.

For more information on the Glacier Jazz Stampede, visit www.glacierjazzstampede.com.

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