BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — Modern music has seen the development of many genres of song — but this also means that some older styles are worried about fading away in recent times. Luckily, one of these legendary styles is still alive and kicking, and nowhere is this cleared than at the University of Mary’s 50th annual Jazz Festival.

The history of Jazz is one that goes back quite some time, with the genre getting its start roughly 100 years ago. Its’ roots can be traced back to New Orleans in the 1900s, where figures like Louis Armstrong and King Oliver took inspiration from blues, ragtime, and even funeral rhythms to create the first instances of jazz music (this original style is now known as Dixieland Jazz). From here, it branched out into a huge number of different sub-genres, including Smooth Jazz, Free Jazz, and both the early and later forms of Swing music. It’s even inspired more popular modern genres like Hip-Hop, Rock, and Country. With such a long history and so many different kinds of Jazz music, it’s hard to imagine how the University of Mary helps to keep the genre going among the newer trends in songs and musical styles.. but Jazz is a type of beat that seems to still resonate with the new generation of artists.

For 50 years, the University of Mary’s music program has hosted their Jazz Festival for both students and the community around them. Originally established by Ernie Borr in 1974, the event serves as a way for the jazz lovers of North Dakota to get together, compete, and learn from the best in the music business. And in a type of music that encourages both sophistication and freestyle, there’s no better way to do so than in a live concert. But what is it about jazz that still resonates with people? It’s believed by many — including its’ performers and instructors — that it’s the improvised aspect.

“It’s the freedom to play more what I want,” explains U-Mary senior and lead alto sax of the school’s Jazz Ensemble Patrick Litton, “and the ability to express how I feel and take the music into my own hands.”

“The essence of improvisation is key in Jazz,” said Associate Professor of Music and Director of Woodwinds and Jazz Studies Brian Lydeen, “and it’s such a unique and different creative experience every time you see a performance… it can be a completely different show from one night to the next.”

Over the concert, both vocal jazz and instrumental jazz groups played solo pieces and then joint numbers with special musical guests of honor. These guest performers — and advisors — are often respected names in the Jazz industry, and guests to this year’s event include internationally-recognized Grammy winner Justin Binek, touring brass musicians Bob Kase, Jim Mair, and Kenni Holeman, and Tom ‘Bones’ Malone (who is best known for contributing over 10,000 musical pieces to popular media). These guests visit the Jazz Festival not only to partake in their favorite musical genre and contribute their own work to the performance but to get a look at the future of Jazz — and help guide it on the right path. This combination of performance and tailored lessons is one that the University of Mary states is key to shaping the musicians of tomorrow, as well as the impact jazz has on the musical climate of the city.

“It’s events like this that really show what we’re doing at the university and the educational experience we’re providing,” states Lydeen. “The things we’re doing in the classroom, the learning that takes place, and passing that on to our students, who then help the educate the community on this kind of music… it kind of brings everyone into being involved.”

The fusion of old legends and new talent throughout this event is very reminiscent of the Jazz industry as a whole. Of course, those who gain the most out of these events are the students — who can both learn from their idols and see them in action. This up-close-and-personal experience with jazz legends does more than instill a sense of admiration, and many some claim its an honor to be able to show their skills to the ones who inspired them to pick up an instrument in the first place.

“I remember coming to the Belle to watch the Jazz Festival as a kid,” recalls Litton, “and this is going to be a great opportunity. Being able to play with all the guests artists who I would never be able to play with, or even be able to talk to, is a great experience. It can be nerve-wracking, but I’m ready.”

The second concert of the Jazz Festival will take place on Saturday, January 28, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are still available at this link.

If you’re a member of an up-and-coming Jazz ensemble, or a student at the University of Mary who wants to learn from the best, consider swinging by next year’s Jazz Festival. More information on the festival is available year-round here.