Pocatello might not be considered a culture hub, but once a year, the city becomes a hotspot for jazz musicians around southeast Idaho.
Jazz Fest, hosted annually by ISU’s music department, provides an opportunity for high school and college students to learn from an accomplished guest artist.
“I think it’s a really special thing that happens in this area,” said Gabriel Lowman, drummer for the ISU Big Band. “They bring in a guest artist, and all the local high school music students in southeast Idaho have an opportunity to hear a neglected form of music for Idaho. Nobody really thinks ‘jazz’ when they think of Idaho.”
The fest this year—the department’s 30th—featured Cathlene Pineda Quartet, made up of trumpet player Kris Tiner, bassist Ivan Johnson, drummer Tina Raymond, and pianist and composer Cathlene Pineda.
The Los Angeles-based group performed against the red-brick interior of Portneuf Valley Brewing Friday, Feb. 3. As Pineda’s quiet notes washed over the restaurant, the crowd fell into a hush, glasses of sarsaparilla or wine thunking against tabletops. The set, played by highly trained and experienced jazz musicians, was a rare experience for many Pocatellans, and director of jazz studies Jonathan Armstrong knew it.
“When I invite professional musicians to ISU Jazz Fest, I am consciously building a culture of diverse creativity,” he said. “This tendency is reflected in the artists I contact, and Cathlene Pineda is a strong dynamic musician who composes and performs deeply emotional and intricate music. I was thrilled to have her bring that energy to Pocatello.”
The next day was a busy one for the jazz program.
Hundreds of high school band members and members of the community streamed in and out of the Stephens Performing Arts Center Saturday, Feb. 3 for hours of instruction and entertainment. Jazz bands from 13 area high schools traveled to SPAC’s Jensen Grand Concert Hall to perform in front of the quartet. Each received instruction from the group, with each member of the quartet able to offer more specialized advice to different sections.
“Jazz is social music, and demands that performers dig deep every time they play in order to give the audience a unique and meaningful experience,” Armstrong said. “Hearing comments from, or performing alongside heavyweights like the Cathlene Pineda Quartet gives young musicians the visceral feeling of what it’s like to perform with deep emotional authenticity every time out.”
That evening, the quartet gave another performance, this time at the SPAC. ISU’s Big Band played with them, Armstrong having composed two big band arrangements of Pineda’s pieces.
The opportunity to learn from, and perform with, four California Institute of the Arts graduates with decades of music experience between them, was an uncommon and valuable one, according to Lowman.
“It gives a lot of people an opportunity just to hear some good music and then even further they can get some advice on how to make that kind of music,” he said. “That’s even more rare than stumbling upon jazz music in the area. It’s a really special thing for students in the area.”