Rootabaga 2018: Our Jazz Community
May 04, 2018
by Elise Goitia '18
While the Knox College community celebrates Homecoming in the fall, for jazz students and alumni, spring brings a second opportunity to celebrate their own homecoming: the Knox-Rootabaga Jazz Festival.
"Rootabaga is when I know I'll see all my friends and my jazz family, so I make a point to come every single year," said Kailee Gawlik '14, a Knox alumna who played with the Big Band among other jazz groups while she was at Knox. "I've come every year since I've graduated."
Yumi Kusunoki '10 is a Knox alumna who has attended Rootabaga four times since moving to Japan, traveling 6,000 miles each time for what she considers her "Knox family's homecoming."
"When I think about Knox, the Knox Jazz Ensemble is the Knox memory for me," she commented. "It's not just friends. These people are family to me."
The 38th annual four-day festival featured headliner saxophonist and composer Greg Ward & 10 Tongues and Matt Ulery's Loom with the Knox-Galesburg Symphony String Quartet, as well as performances by the Knox Alumni Big Band, Faculty and Friends Combo, and the Knox Jazz Ensemble. There were performances at Galesburg-area schools, Fat Fish Pub, the Orpheum Theatre, and the Galesburg Public Library for an event with young children.
Gawlik said that, prior to attending Knox, she was introverted and felt it was hard to express herself to other people. However, her interest in Knox's jazz community sparked a change.
"I had to learn how to open up in that way and express myself to other people, and that helped me blossom and bloom into the person I am now where I feel that I still improvise in my daily life," she said. "The sense of community around jazz, especially here, is really universal."
Earlier this year, the National Endowment for the Arts approved a $10,000 Challenge America grant for the Knox-Rootabaga Jazz Festival. The Challenge America category features NEA support for projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations—those whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability.
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Rootabaga, a part of the Knox Jazz Year, aims to bring together professional jazz artists, alumni, local musicians, Knox faculty, and current students for jazz events that are open to the surrounding community.
Sosy Fleming '19, who plays the French horn and the trombone, worked with headliner Greg Ward. They said that the Knox Jazz Year program makes it easier to bring guest artists to Knox and Galesburg.
"Knox and Galesburg have a robust jazz community, unlike a lot of other places, and if I were anywhere else, I don't think I'd be as much a part of a jazz community or even as much of a jazz player or aficionado," Fleming added.
Knox Jazz Year includes two other annual events that culminate with free public concerts. The Jerome Mirza Jazz Residency brings world-renowned jazz artists to campus for a week of intensive and collaborative jazz activities with students. The Knox Winter Jazz series showcases global artists with diverse cultural perspectives for one-on-one experiential programming with Knox students and the Galesburg community.