Since 1992, the Oregon Festival of American Music has been a feature of summers in Eugene. Each year, the festival chooses a repertoire to explore in a series of concerts and events spanning a two-week period.
KLCC's Lauren Purcell-Joiner spoke with OFAM's music director Chuck Redd to discuss this year's focus on swing music and what audiences could expect from the festival lineup.
LP: You've been with the festival for a while, is that correct?
CR: I've been participating in the festival for about twelve years as a musician, and it's just a thrill and an honor to be musical director this year at OFAM (Oregon Festival of American Music). It's a unique festival, unlike any festival that I play around the country, and I play a lot of jazz festivals, and this is a wonderful celebration of the American popular song. And this year, with a focus on the swing era and swing music.
LP: I noticed that, can you help us sort of identify swing in the American musical vernacular canon? Can you just talk about its place in American vernacular music?
CR: It's probably safe to say that "to swing," as a verb, is kind of in all of American music. It began with Jazz in the 1920's. It's a rhythm that started stirring in New Orleans, in possibly even the late nineteen-teens. And then Louis Armstrong emerged in the 20's and took it to new heights with his compositional improvisations and his larger than life spirit and his playing and later singing. Then the arrangers and band leaders from New York and Chicago and other large cities, started forming big bands and orchestrating the kind of things that Louis Armstrong was playing, and it became a kind of a new genre or a new direction for jazz. And the big band era emerged from that. People like Duke Ellington were some of the catalysts. Later Benny Goodman, Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, people like that. And it became the popular music, kind of leading out of the depression of the early 30's. And the big band era lasted roughly from 1935-45.
LP: You mentioned some big names, and you're going to visit a lot of those names in this particular festival, aren't you?
CR: Well we are, it's very exciting. We're gonna play a lot of music by Benny Goodman, a lot of music by Duke Ellington, by Gene Krupa. A lot of songs that were associated with these bands that were sung by people like Doris Day, and Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald. My vision for this festival is to take this music that was recorded and arranged and composed so many years ago, my feeling is that I'd like to bring it right up to 2019 and play it with a spirit that's going to put a smile on everyone's face and get them snapping their fingers and tapping their feet.
LP: Swing is one of those things that's really fun to listen to, and I assume it's just as fun to play?
CR: That's actually what's so wonderful about it, that's why we do it, and I believe that's why, back to the verb "to swing," I believe that's why it swings--because we're having fun and we're pumping our passion and enthusiasm into it, and that act, and that enthusiasm, and that feeling, is timeless.
LP: You were talking about some of the really big name bands, that are still touring, and I've always found that one of the cool things, is that you basically get this kind of unbroken musical lineage in terms of learning how to play swing, and learning how to play big band music, from the original band leaders.
CR: Absolutely. That's how swing works, that's how jazz works. It's a series of mentors and apprenticeships. Those apprentices become veterans and they teach more people, and you just hand the torch off. And it's really a wonderful, wonderful thing. It's a beautiful thread that runs through American music. It's timeless and also connected to much of our popular music in the United States right up to and including rhythm and blues, and some rock and roll, funk music like James Brown, pop music, and even, rhythmically, I might get some pushback from some purists here, but rhythmically even in hip hop music. Because, there are beats in there that actually, that kind of have a triplet swinging feel underneath. But's it's in there, it's all in there, and I believe that's why people young, when they hear a jazz group, or a swing group, or a big band that's really swinging, that's what people respond to, I believe. Because it's in us all, whether you know it or not.
The Oregon Festival of American Music runs July 24 to August 3.
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