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A Boise Musical Tradition Returns: 21st Annual Gene Harris Jazz Festival April 4-6

Gene Harris
Gene Harris, playing in 1998.

Long before Boise had Treefort, it had the annual Gene Harris Jazz Festival, an event that thrilled local music lovers, lured others to town and put Boise on the music map. Named for the late Boise musician Gene Harris (1933-2000), the festival is back for its 21st season. It will offer three days of performances, clinics, lectures, workshops, open rehearsals and more. This year’s festival takes place Wednesday, April 4-Friday, April 6, at venues on campus and in downtown Boise.

The roster includes two headliners, John Daversa from Miami — a jazz trumpeter, electronic valve instrument player, composer, arranger, big band leader and educator, and Rosana Eckert from Texas, an internationally recognized vocalist, songwriter and arranger, voice-over actor and master teacher.

Highlights include a kickoff concert at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 4, at the Boise State Special Events Center ($7 tickets available through Ticketmaster and at the door); Club Night concerts at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 5, at various venues including the Owyhee Ballroom, JUMP and the Simplot Performing Arts Academy ($12 tickets available through Ticketmaster and at the door of each location), and the headline concert featuring the Gene Harris Super Band at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 6, at the Morrison Center for the Performing Arts ($15 tickets available through Ticketmaster and at the Morrison Center box office).

Headliner Daversa will lead the Super Band, featuring his original music and arrangements. The band will include visiting musicians and local professionals as well as Boise State faculty musicians.

In true community spirit, the festival also will offer a number of free events, including performances and clinics by student vocal and instrumental jazz groups throughout the day April 5-6 in the Jordan Ballroom, as well as the Outstanding Ensembles Showcase Concert at 4:45 p.m. April 5 in the Special Events Center and an open dress rehearsal for the Super Band at 4 p.m. April 6 in the Special Events Center.

Gene Harris was born in Michigan and spent his life as a working jazz pianist. He made scores of recordings for companies including Verve and Blue Note. He moved to Boise in the 1970s. Longtime residents will remember him as a regular act in the lobby of the Idanha Hotel — when the space, now home to Guru Donuts and the Bombay Grill — was a sleek, dark piano bar and the Idanha was operating as a hotel. Celebrated Boise musician Curtis Stigers regularly sat in on open jam sessions with Harris at the Idanha while still in high school. He’s spoken often in interviews about the significance of Harris in his own music education, and of Harris’ generosity in sharing his own musical knowledge. So it’s appropriate that the festival benefits local music students. Since 1996, a portion of profits have helped support the Gene Harris Endowment, which provides scholarships for music students at Boise State.