WHITE BEAR LAKE — The 25th annual Century College Jazz Festival is scheduled to kick off this weekend.
“It’s one of the best tickets in town,” said Larry Neumann, director of the Century College Jazz Ensemble. “The reception is one hour before the concert. There’s beverages, dessert and cheese included. During that time we’ll have entertainment from the other bands, and the big band kicks it all off at 8 p.m. on Saturday.”
Neumann said the jazz ensemble is an adult group that started in 1981 and caters to people who have a passion for jazz music. The festival itself is funded by the Century College Foundation.
“I started performing with the ensemble in 1986 or 1987, and I’ve been directing the ensemble for 16 years now,” Neumann said. “I’ve been to every one of the festivals.”
Performances are scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 25, and Sunday, Jan. 26. Concerts will include the Century College Jazz Ensemble, Joel Shapira and Charmin Michelle and Friends. The event will feature special guest Butch Miles playing with the ensemble on drums.
“Butch Miles of the Count Basie Orchestra is our featured guest this year, and it’s really exciting to have him,” Neumann said. “He’s played with so many people — Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., just go down the list.”
Though a nationally known featured artist is a common addition to any of the Jazz Festivals, Neumann said this year is a little different.
“Butch is the first drummer we’ve had, and this is very exciting for us,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a bit of a connection between him being here for the 25th. To have someone of Butch’s character playing with us is really fun.”
Neumann said he has enjoyed every minute of performing with the jazz ensemble in the past 25 years.
Planning for the jazz festival each year is a big deal and begins in March or April. Artists are booked, and other details fall into place over the summer. Neumann said the event planning really picks up in the month before the performances.
“My favorite part of the festival is the performance with the artists,” he said. “All the memories on stage with some of them have been priceless, and it’s always a thrill to make contact with these artists.”
For those unsure about attending Neumann had this encouragement:
“Don’t hesitate, just go and enjoy it,” he said. “It’s very unpretentious, and like one of our past leaders from the foundation said, when you look at the price of the ticket, and everything included in it, it’s probably the best ticket around.”
Shows are at 8 p.m. Saturday Jan. 25, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26 at the college’s West Campus Theatre. Tickets cost $20 for adults and $10 for students. Proceeds support student scholarships through the Century College Foundation.
Contact Avery Cropp at [email protected]