The room throbbed with all the energy and exuberance of a high school pep dance, and perhaps that’s what the centerpiece of the 2019 Sitka Jazz Festival was. The Kyle Athayde Dance Party, an 18 piece big band from New York, played for a dance after the Friday night Festival concert. The band does modern high energy arrangements of some old standards mixed with exciting and sometimes challenging new compositions by Kyle Athayde.
At times the Sitka Jazz Festival seems like a big league jazz fest and at times like a high school band festival. It’s both. Thirty musicians (including the big band) converge on Sitka along with top High School musicians from around the state. Performers this year included trumpeter Bijon Watson (a repeat visitor), vocalist Brianna Thomas, Baritone Sax Man Leo Pelligrino and a multi-instrumentalist, from the Jazz Mafia, Adam Theis. The festival has workshops and master classes during the day and concerts at night. Some of the concerts highlight the best of the high school players, some highlight the professional guests, one is a jam by the music teachers and some are a mix of the pros playing with the kids.
The dance was new this year. It was Kyle’s idea. The main floor of the Centennial building had dancers from high school to grandparents. The kids were watching the old timers swing dance, copying joining and adding their own moves. During a samba a multigenerational conga line wound its way through the building. When the band played “In the Mood” a scream went up from the teens and elders together. And when the band played jazz arrangements of popular video game music the kids laughed, sang and danced while the elders wondered if we were having a senior moment. Attire ranged from semi-formal (some girls in slinky black dresses) to fisherman formal. The kids were definitely dressed better than their parents and grandparents. Dance footwear ranged from socks to high heels to xtra-tuffs. I saw one pair of combat boots. I myself wore Merrills, not the best for dancing but I tried. It was community building through jazz, old and young kicked back and boogied, boogalooed, and swung or did whatever kids do now. And if the exuberance got to exuberant there was “The Side Door Jazz Club” where those over 21 could retreat from the excitement for a glass of wine.
Sitka’s several music festivals along with the Sitka Fine Arts Camp make Sitka a regional arts center. And there was a nice bit of closure this festival. Kyle Athayde’s father is an instructor at the Fine Arts Camp and Kyle was a teen aged camper in Sitka. He met some of his future bandmates in here. And now he’s back from New York with his own big band, passing on the tradition to a new generation of kids while wowing the adults.