116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
With bass player Vivian Shanley of Cedar Rapids launching the lineup, KCCK-FM’s annual Jazz Under the Stars would be more aptly titled “Stars Under the Jazz.”
The series is ready to light up Thursday nights in August at Noelridge Park in northeast Cedar Rapids, opening with Vivian Shanley & Friends on Aug. 4. She’ll return Aug. 18, doing double duty with her double bass as part of The 5K Quintet student ensemble at 6:30 p.m., before moving into the Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra at 7 p.m.
The KCCK website calls Shanley “one of the most celebrated student musicians to come along in the state of Iowa in recent memory.” Just 18, the recent Cedar Rapids Washington High School grad has won awards at the local, state, regional and national level; performs in various ensembles; launched her own teaching studio via Zoom during the pandemic, and now has about 10 students of varying ages and abilities, on upright and electric bass.
What: Jazz Under the Stars
Where: Noelridge Park, 4900 Council St. NE, Cedar Rapids, near the playground
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursdays in August
Aug. 4: Dandelion Stompers with Vivian Shanley & Friends opening
Aug. 11: Betsy Hickok/Ron Roberts Quintet with YesterNite opening; also KCCK album and CD sale
Aug. 18: Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra with The 5K Quintet opening
Aug. 25: Blake Shaw Big(ish) Band with Kirkwood Jazz Combo opening
Extras: Bring seating and picnics or buy from food vendors on-site; no rain dates or sites; for weather cancellations, turn to KCCK 88.3 FM, kcck.org or KCCK posts on Twitter or Facebook
Among her performing accolades is one for composing, earning her a 2021 Downbeat Student Music Award for her piece, “Ideal Realism.” She later was surprised to receive an outstanding soloist award while playing backup for her high school’s vocal jazz group.
She’s also grateful for the Washington High School scholarships she’s received to help further her music education studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. Her favorite was the scholarship named after her former teacher, Jim Miller, who retired after the 2021 school year.
And if her last name sounds familiar, she’s hardwired for musical excellence, as the daughter of composer/arranger/pianist/educator Steve Shanley and musician/educator Valerie Shanley. Vivian has performed with both of her parents. Younger brother Evan, a clarinet player, rounds out the musical household.
Vivian Shanley has played Jazz Under the Stars before, when Ethan Buck invited her to perform with the Corridor Quintet in 2019. So when Dennis Green, the station’s general manager, asked her to return this year for the young artists’ spotlight, she said, “Of course.”
She called that earlier experience “really cool,” being up on the stage, looking out over all the jazz fans blanketing a slice of the park off Council Street NE.
“They always get such a big crowd, which is amazing,” she said, “so that was definitely one of the biggest audiences I’ve played for, and I hope they have that again this year. …
“I’m really excited to see all the people come out. It’s always fun. Because the admission is free, it never feels pretentious. It’s really cool to have an event with free live jazz music, and good vibes all around.”
For this year’s opening gig, she’s gathering up some friends who will be performing together for the first time.
“I’ve always had this group of people in mind to do a performance, and there’s never been the right opportunity,” Shanley said, “so it’s been really fun to get the music together, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Green is excited to round up Young Artists ensembles to hit the stage for about 30 minutes before each week’s headliners, so the new start time is 6:30 p.m.
KCCK piloted this effort in 2019, inviting a couple of youth groups to perform that year, but that program was set aside in the wake of the pandemic and derecho the following year. Now it’s back in full force, with Vivian Shanley & Friends on Aug. 4; YesterNite on Aug. 11; The 5K Quintet on Aug. 18; and the Kirkwood Jazz Combo on Aug. 25.
Turning to the mainstage lineup, Green is hoping the third time’s the charm for the Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra. This ensemble, designed to provide role models for girls in the state, was invited to play in a physically distanced concert planned for August 2020 at the McGrath Amphitheatre.
“But then there was this giant windstorm,” Green said. So he invited the group back for the 2021 series, only to have rain wash out that night’s concert.
This year marks the 34th Jazz Under the Stars series, and while some ensembles have been on the docket more than once, Green said they always strive to program bands new to the series, focusing mainly on groups from Linn County, but also bringing to Cedar Rapids groups from Johnson County and Eastern Iowa. Like the Dandelion Stompers, based in Iowa City.
“We’ve never had the Dandelion Stompers before — they don’t play in Cedar Rapids very often,” Green said. “So that's a unique treat, although a couple of members of the band are from Cedar Rapids.
“They (play) a kind of a traditional jazz. There’s a little bit of Dixieland in there, a little bit of ’20s vocal style. And the roots of jazz, of course, are in New Orleans, and they really bring that bring that style to the fore in a great and entertaining way.”
Other headliners include The Betsy Hickok/Ron Roberts Quintet, The Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra and The Blake Shaw Big(ish) Band. Fronted by Lisbon native Blake Shaw, he started out at Kirkwood Community College, where KCCK-FM is based, then he moved on to undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Iowa.
Shaw also is the leader of KCCK’s Schoolhouse Jazz band and is a faculty member at KCCK’s recent Middle School Jazz Band Camp, where Shanley served as a camp counselor, bass player and teacher. She’s an alum of the program, where she gradually fell in love with jazz, after starting out on piano, then switching to bass in fifth grade and joining her school orchestra.
Jazz Under the Stars got its start in 1988, and Green said it’s the audience that keeps it going.
“It’s the people who come back every year,” he said. “We have people whose parents brought them to Jazz Under the Stars when they were toddlers, and now they’re bringing their own kids. I just talk to so many people who have literally grown up with this series.
“Like a lot of our events, it's just a part of the lifeblood of summertime in our community. We’re thrilled to be able to keep this going and provide this experience.
“And the park setting is unique, where concerts are concerned. The Municipal Band, of course, (performs in) parks around the community, and has been for many years. But from a jazz concert perspective, the park setting is unique.”
He said another plus is having a playground nearby. If the kids get restless, they can head over there and the adults can still hear the music.
Picnics also are popular at the concerts, and audience members can pack their own meals and snacks, or check out the options on-site, featuring different vendors each week, as well as ice cream.
Bring a little extra cash Aug. 11 for the station’s annual album and CD sale, focusing mostly on jazz, but not exclusively, culled from the station’s stash and listeners’ donations.
Along with strolling the crowd and talking to the folks gathered there, Green loves “just getting to watch people enjoy music.”
“That's really what we're about at KCCK — connecting people and music,” he said. “And getting to watch people enjoy live music is something that just makes it all worth it.”
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