Rodney Whitaker Quintet Prepares for East Lansing Jazz Festival

Thursday, June 22, 2017, 7:50 am
Peyton Lombardo

The Summer Solstice Jazz Festival is set to take place this weekend, June 23 and June 24. The Festival will feature performances from nationally recognized and local artists. Taking place at the Ann Street Plaza and Lot 1 at 230 Albert Avenue, SSJF is designed to attract both new and long-time jazz fans. I talked with the Festival’s Artistic Director, Rodney Whitaker.

Whitaker is a veteran of SSJF, having performed and served as Artistic Director for the last decade. Each successful festival just adds to the expectations for the next, he says. For this year, he said, “I am hoping to grow the audience from the greater Lansing areas and to witness more cultural diversity at the festival.”

Aside from performing himself, Whitaker is excited to hear the “diverse programming assembled by the board and myself.” He also noted the new additions the festival has been adding each year. “There is an expanded number of youth ensembles performing for this year's festival and I am looking forward to hearing these young students.”

Whitaker comes from a strong music background. He has recorded with Mack Avenue Records in Detroit, who have also recorded such famous jazz musicians as Gary Burton, Stanley Jones, and the Yellowjackets. He has toured the country with legendary acts for 25 years. Aside from recording and touring, he has also worked to score films, and currently teaches at Michigan State University’s College of Music as Professor of Jazz Bass and Director of Jazz Studies.

For Whitaker, the decision to come to Michigan State University (and East Lansing) was easy. “I feel that Michigan State University and all of her communities are very supportive in promoting jazz and cultural diversity.” In regards to East Lansing, he mentioned that his favorite aspect of the city is the festivals.

When asked about what he likes about performing versus teaching in the classroom or composing, he said that they all go hand in hand. “All of the above is part of the same event. I am always excited to perform, however, composing and teaching in the classroom are exciting as well.”

After the Festival, Whitaker plans to keep busy with new projects. “I am currently planning our Fall 2017 Michigan State University Federal Credit Union Guest Artists series for the College of Music Jazz Studies Area,” he said. Another highlight project will be preparing the Michigan State University Jazz Orchestra I for the 2018 Jazz Spectacular.

The Rodney Whitaker Quintet will be performing Friday night from 7:00-8:00pm at the Founder’s Stage (located in Lot 1 at 230 Albert Avenue). For the full performer lineup and pertinent festival details, visit the official website here.


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