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Four nights of jazz in Moscow (Idaho).

The surprised patrons of TJ's Restaurant in Moscow, idaho, turned their heads in unison to watch Lionel Hampton and his entourage slowly weave past a large group of young well-wishers and admirers. Some of the fans asked for autographs; some wanted to touch his sleeve; and some just wished to be near the legendary jazz musician. One especially exuberant woman bolted from the group holding an autograph like a winning lottery ticket. "I've been waiting a year for this," she screamed as she skipped past the amused diners.

With all the commotion, the crowd didn't even notice the Grammy nominee and master reed player Branford Marsalis quietly paying his bill while chatting with his musician brother Delfeayo; or Los Angeles Times' jazz critic, Leonard Feather, the author of 12 books on music, reviewing his handwritten notes at a nearby table; or the trumpet virtuoso Freddie Hubbard, dressed to the nines, quickly stealing into the damp February air. Perhaps the patrons did notice a special menu item added only once a year: meat loaf, Lionel's favorite dish, served with a hearty helping of Idaho potatoes. These are unusual times in this sleepy town. Magic is everywhere.

The 82-year-old Hampton, who started his career as a vibraharpist in 1936 in a big way with Benny Goodman, took time to talk to each and every one of his fans; at the restaurant. Lionel Hampton is; a class act, and it's hard to tell if Idaho hits adopted Hampton or if Hampton has adopted Idaho.

What brings Hampton and other musicians to Moscow each year is the Lionel Hampton-Chevron Jazz Festival, hosted by the century-old University of Idaho. Once a year, in late February, for four days and nights, this pastoral northern Idaho community of 17,000-known more for prodigious harvests of wheat, peas, and lentils than for chord progressions and 12-bar blues-becomes home to one of the greatest collections of jazz musicians on the planet.

This year is the 23rd anniversary of the festival, which didn't really take off until 1984, when Lionel Hampton and his New York Big Band made their first visit to Moscow as guest artists., Hampton fell in love with the rolling hills and brick architecture of the U. of I. campus (parts of the historic campus were designed by the famous landscape architect John C. Olmsted), and its youthful talent. Hampton established an endowment for the festival, using his late wife's name, Gladys, and Chevron quickly matched Hampton's contribution.

The festival has doubled in size under Hampton's guidance and inspiration. Over the course of four days, more than 15,000 fans will turn out. When Hampton asks a musician to come to the Lionel Hampton/Chevron Jazz Festival, he is rarely turned down. His home may be in New York City, but his heart is in Moscow, Idaho.

"I've always got my mind, heart, and soul at the university all year round, not just for this occasion," Hampton says.

Some local talent bloomed during past celebrations. Lisa Willson of nearby Colfax, Washington, finished first in a student vocalist competition in 1986 and second in 1987. Hampton spotted the contralto and made her a member of the Hampton band shortly thereafter. This year Bea Wallins, a Moscow high-school student, was the recipient of a $1,000 check from Hampton himself.

The local economy also benefits from the festival. Revenues run between $1 million and $3 million for the four-day event. Motels are booked months in advance, as are limousines, saxophones, tuxedos, and every available piano within 200 miles.

Unexpected vignettes emerge during the week. This year, when Michael Karetnikov, a Soviet bass player, contracted in abscessed tooth during the flight to Idaho, a local dentist opened his Moscow office on President's Day to perform emergency care. Because the Soviets were on a strict per diem, the dentist donated his services. The dentist received a free album of the musician's and complimentary tickets.

In addition to the Marsalis brothers, Hubbard, Jones, the Hi-Lo's, Al Grey, Carl Fontana, Patti Brown, Sunny Wilkinson, Terri Gonzalez, and even Miss America, Debbye Turner (she plays marimba), continued an international festival theme initiated last year.

The Soviet musicians Lembit Saarsalu, Leonid Vintskevitch, and Arkadi Schilkloper returned for an international concert during the first of four nights of performances. They were joined by Ricardo Silveira, a Brazilian guitarist, and Keiko Matsui, a Japanese keyboardist who stole the show and received one of the many standing ovations that evening.

At the end of the night's performance, all the musicians held a long jam session into the wee hours that perhaps best epitomized the spirit of the Lionel Hampton/Chevron Jazz Festival. Using the only language they shared-the language of music-the foreign artists, who had never played together before, joined the dancing Hampton on vibes for a rousing finale: a musical glastiost.

Later in the week, Lionel Hampton was asked why he returns every year to Idaho. He looked at the questioner incredulously, as if the answer were more than obvious.

"This school has the best facility for teaching anywhere," Hampton said. "All my attention is focused here. My main goal for this festival is to see more students involved.

"This festival speaks of community spirit. God keeps His blessing on this festival."
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Author:Lyons, Stephen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1990
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