Tallcorn Jazz Fest

Abram Miller, sophomore composition-theory major, jams away on his saxophone. Miller is a part of UNI Jazz Panthers.

SYDNEY HAUER, Executive Editor | [email protected]

Brass instruments echoed off UNI’s halls this weekend as multiple bands descended on campus.

Bengtson Auditorium in Russell Hall and Gallagher Bluedorn’s Davis Hall served as the venues for the talents of world renowned jazz guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, UNI Jazz students and many high school jazz bands this past weekend.

Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia held their 66th annual Tallcorn Jazz Festival and Sinfonian Dimensions in Jazz concerts (SDIJ) on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 17 and 18. The festival held over 50 high school jazz bands between Friday and Saturday and featured a concert each night by the UNI Jazz Panthers and Jazz Band One. The SDIJ concerts featured guest artist Rosenwinkel.

The Tallcorn Jazz Festival is completely run by the brothers of music fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. Music professor Chris Merz, the director of Jazz Band One, is involved only when it comes to selecting the guest artist and getting the judges lined up. All of the communication and scheduling with high school bands is completely conducted by the students.

Ryan Garmoe and Thomas Sparks both helped organize the festival. 

“I am the Tallcorn coordinator — the person who does most of the organizing for the festival,” said Ryan Garmoe, trumpet performance major and a brother in the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. “Thomas Sparks is the other coordinator. And together both of us kind of run the festival.”

Garmoe said that planning the festival involves a lot of logistics and planning ahead — a process that takes months.

“We use the School of Music buildings and a lot of the school of music’s gear, but we’re the ones that organize all of [it],” Garmoe said.

Sinfonia members purchase the food for concessions and work the concession stands, as well as do all of the tabulation and results.

“It started as a high school jazz festival, and back when it was getting started and the fraternity was really small, it was about 10 or 12 people doing all of this,” Garmoe said.

“As the jazz program became more of a figurehead around the school of music, it started to pick up some steam. And now it’s one of the biggest festivals in the state.”

According to Garmoe, Tallcorn has become the biggest jazz festival on this side of the Mississippi River.

“It’s so genuine, in that it’s run by college kids. You don’t have a bunch of band parents that know everyone, trying to keep a strict enforcement of rules,” said Thomas Sparks, senior music education major. “It’s very chill. We try to make sure that the kids don’t trash the place, but we’re able to add our own little twists and spins to it.”

Each year, Tallcorn brings in a guest artist to play with Jazz Band One at the SDIJ concerts and offer a masterclass to those who want to participate.

“I think the reason [Merz] chose Kurt Rosenwinkel is because he is just completely different from the artists we have had in the past,” Garmoe said. “It’s really fresh, and it challenges our current mode of thinking, which is absolutely necessary.”

Sparks mentioned that Rosenwinkel has worked with many modern jazz artists, toured internationally and been featured on many records.

“He is kind of a big name in the jazz guitar world right now, and just a monster player,” Sparks said.

The SDIJ concerts feature the same music both nights so that each day’s high school bands can experience it. However, Sparks stressed that there are a lot of different things that can happen in terms of improvisation that can make each night differ from one another.

“We like to mix things up, but we’re still coordinated enough to make it happen and make it look seamless at least,” Sparks said.

“I think Tallcorn is one of the best experiences that you can have as a jazz musician growing up in the Midwest because there are a lot of festivals that you can go to as a high school student or even as a college student that don’t get the same level of professionals to join the festival that we do,” said Chris Jensen, junior music technology major and UNI Jazz Panthers percussionist. “Having the guest artist that we have, I think puts Tallcorn above the rest.”

“There are a lot of people on campus who should really plan on coming to the SDIJ concerts next year,” Sparks said. “It’s going to be equally as good.”