University Relations and Communications

MSU Billings to host one-day Jazz Festival

January 24, 2015



John Roberts, Music Department, 657-2049
Carmen Price, University Relations and Communications, 657-2269


The day of jazz opens Friday, Feb. 6, at 9 a.m. in Cisel Recital Hall and Petro Theatre on the university’s four-year campus. The day concludes with a jazz concert in Petro Theatre from 7-9 p.m., featuring guest artist, Nick Mancini.


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Vibraphonist and composer Nick Mancini has performed and recorded with diverse musical luminaries such as Arturo Sandoval and Charles Fambrough. He’ll be sharing the stage with much younger musicians when he headlines the Montana State University Billings Jazz Festival on Feb. 6.

Nick Mancini

The university will host a one-day jazz festival for high school and junior high jazz ensembles from around the state, featuring as much learning as listening, with guest artists conducting clinics and sharing the stage with music students.


That’s one thing that makes the festival unique, said organizer John Roberts, who teaches low brass at MSUB. Instead of just listening to top jazz performers, students will interact with them and receive tips and suggestions following 45-minute clinics.


“This is an incredible opportunity for young musicians,” Roberts said. “It opens new possibilities and gives them a fresh and modern take on the music.”


Billings has long been known for a robust musical scene, and in recent years, jazz has taken main stage, Tyler Briceno, junior percussion performing arts major at MSUB, said.


“The jazz scene has really exploded in Billings,” Briceno, who studies under Roberts, said. “Jazz hasn’t been around for awhile in Billings, it’s been more country, rock and bluegrass. But John (Roberts) and other local musicians have helped to bring it back to life.”


After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1996 in music performance from MSUB, the Malta native Roberts spent the next 17 years in Los Angeles while touring the world with his trombone alongside musicians such as Taj Mahal, the Temptations and recording with Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera.


In 2013, Roberts returned to his alma mater as a jazz and low brass assistant professor. With his return came the return of the MSUB Jazz Festival.


Roberts said the festival’s history dates back decades, but dissolved some time after he graduated.


“The Jazz Festival is the reason why I enrolled at MSUB,” Roberts said. “I got to hear Maynard Ferguson, one of the best jazz trumpet players of all time, play right here during the festival of my senior year in high school.”


The festival used to be one of Montana’s biggest jazz events, drawing people from all over the state and region, Roberts said.

Roberts hopes to revive the festival and make it an annual two-day event.


“Billings is a community that really values the arts, and there is great momentum going on with three or four bands playing around town each night,” Roberts said. “I want to try to keep the momentum going and expand ideas for students. I want to give them something to build upon.”


Briceno is helping Roberts to organize and facilitate the festival. He said the opportunity the festival gives to students is tremendous.

“It’s really mind-blowing to see what’s all a part of this type of genre and listen and learn from the masters of this art,” Briceno said. “John is bringing the big scenes, the big players usually found only in the big cities, right here to Billings. Learning from people of this caliber is such a cool opportunity.”


The day of jazz opens Friday, Feb. 6, at 9 a.m. between Cisel Recital Hall and Petro Theatre on the university’s four-year campus.


Throughout the festival, student instrumental groups will play for jazz educators and guest artists and also attend a jazz improvisation clinic hosted by Arts Without Boundaries. Festival adjudicators include Mark Fenderson, MSUB assistant professor of high brass; Rob Wells, a retired Billings schools music supervisor; Matthew Devitt, MSUB percussion instructor and local musician; and Anthony Hammond, Rocky Mountain College assistant professor of music.


Special guest Mancini will adjudicate a master class for students at 12:45 p.m. in Cisel Hall. The Los Angeles based vibraphonist Mancini has been ranked in Downbeat magazine as one of the top vibraphonists in the nation.


Another festival highlight is the All Montana Jazz Band ensemble, featuring top student musicians.


The festival will conclude with evening concert in Petro Theatre featuring Mancini. He’ll be joined by Roberts, Devitt, Parker Brown and Alex Nauman.


All performances and clinics are open to the public. Tickets to the evening performance are $10 for general admission and $5 for students. Tickets will be sold at the door.


Learn more about special guest Nick Mancini. For more information about the festival, visit the Jazz Festival website.


PHOTO: Headlining the MSU Billings Jazz Festival is Los Angeles-based vibraphonist Nick Mancini. Mancini has been ranked in Downbeat magazine as one of the top vibraphonists in the nation.


>  Get Jazz Festival poster