Saving Jazz in Moscow, Idaho

Throughout the 1960’s jazz was admired across the nation. In the small college town of Moscow, Idaho, the love for the upbeat New Orleans sound was no different.

In 1968, a small group of students and one guest artist gathered together to perform Jazz music and compete in Moscow, Idaho’s first Jazz Festival. Hosted by David Seiler and Robert Spevack, the festival was embraced by the community. According to University of Idaho graduate, Amanda Nagel, the goal of Seiler and Spevack was to combat the death of Jazz to the rise of Rock-N-Roll through “educating young students and instituting a love for jazz for a new generation.”

In 1977, Dr. Lynn “Doc” Skinner became the new director for the University of Idaho’s Jazz Festival. It was Doc’s plan to transform the small event into a celebrated festival that would bring big names to the northern Idaho. The intimate, single day event grew into a three-day event that brought renowned artists and thousands of students from all over the country to the University of Idaho. Through workshops, clinics, and concerts, students and faculty have been exposed to a variety of different jazz genres.

The Jazz Festival was graced with the appearance from the Queen of Jazz herself, Ella Fitzgerald. Her 1982 headlined attendance led to the national recognition of the UI Jazz Festival. Shortly after her visit, the University’s student newspaper, The Argonaut, stated, “The evening was a rare one in Moscow. The appearance of a unique and great talent is something to be appreciated. To use one of the titles, Ella, ‘There Will Never Be Another You.’” It was after the presence of Ms. Fitzgerald that big names became ordinary for the U of I Jazz Festival.

In 1985, the festival was renamed in the honor of Lionel Hampton. That year his band performed on the intimate stage of the Memorial gym, playing through the night, nearly to sunrise. Charles Gallagher, a writer for the Argonaut, describes the event stating, “The performance reminded one of an old black and white movie depicting a smoky jazz hall in Chicago 50 years ago.” Hampton was so impressed by the enthusiasm from the young musicians that he pledged to be the ambassador for the University of Idaho’s Jazz Festival. According to a 1985 January edition of the Argonaut, Hampton began his commitment by donating $50,000 to establish a foundation for the festival. At his 1985 attendance, the University of Idaho recognized Hampton by formally renaming the event to the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival.

To date, the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival has brought thousands of jazz music enthusiasts together to learn from and listen to artists like Ray Brown, Sarah Vaughn, Doc Severinsen, and Al Jarreau. The international superstar appearing in shows coast-to-coast as the United States’ Ambassador of Jazz, Dizzy Gillespie appeared at the Jazz Festival on multiple occasions. Known for his swollen-like-balloons cheeks while he played the trumpet, Dizzy not only embraced the event as a professional and instructor he dedicated some of his most prized possessions to the Jazz collection at the University.

It was the appreciation and perseverance of Jazz from people like Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dizzy Gillespie that allowed for its endurance throughout musical history. Entering its 50th year anniversary, the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival has allowed for many diverse artists visit the Northwest region and continues to enable the admiration of jazz for generations.