2018 Jazz Fest performances to celebrate 10th anniversary as a City of Literature

Image result for iowa city jazz festivalHow fitting that on the 10th anniversary of Iowa City earning the designation as a UNESCO City of Literature the Iowa City Jazz Festival has three major acts that incorporate literature as an integral element of the performance. Each night of the festival brings an innovative blend of literature and music, as artists find inspiration in the written word.

The literary connections begin at 9 p.m. on Friday, June 29, with Iowa City’s own John Rapson, director of the jazz studies program at the University of Iowa. His “Hot Tamale Louie” was inspired by a 2016 New Yorker article by Kathryn Schulz. That piece, “Citizen Khan,” tells the story of Zarif Khan, an Afghani who made his way to Sheridan, Wyoming, around the turn of the last century, and began selling tamales.

Rapson created a musical production that blends Mexican waltzes, Western ballads, Eastern folk songs and more, all woven together with jazz, to tell Khan’s story.

Things continue at 9 p.m. on Saturday, June 30, with the Jane Ira Bloom Quartet. Bloom’s latest album, Wild Lines, which, as the album subtitle states, finds Bloom “Improvising Emily Dickinson.” The Soprano saxophonist and composer carries her admiration for the 19th century poet through the recording studio and onto the stage, with songs paying tribute to Dickinson. A special two-CD version of the album incorporates readings of some of the poems that inspired the work, drawn from the collections The Gorgeous Nothings and Emily Dickinson and The Art Of Belief.

The weekend closes – from a literary standpoint – with a performance at 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 1, by Matt Wilson’s Honey and Salt, a group that performs music inspired by the poetry of Wilson’s fellow Illinois native Carl Sandburg. Wilson hails from tiny Knoxville, Illinois, just about five miles from Sandburg’s home in Galesburg, and was born just three years before the poet’s death.

Sandburg’s work is wide ranging, in some ways capturing early 20th century life as well as anyone. Wilson is able to pick and choose from the poet’s vast catalog, finding poems that work well in song or in recitation. He groups these into sections that touch on city life, prairie life and music.

These performances, which find journalism and poetry pulled off of the page and given life through song, are a fitting celebration of Iowa City’s literary milestone.

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