‘Jazzmom’ sets the table for UAA Jazz Week

Melissa “Jazzmom” Fisher and the rest of her trio breezed through more than an hour of jazz standards from “Love Me Like a Man” to “My Funny Valentine” all to show that local musicians have a heart.

The benefit concert Jan. 26 at the UAA Arts Building was the fourth of five events scheduled monthly to raise funds for UAA Department of Music’s Jazz Week 2005.

Local musicians give their time freely for these concerts. “These guys aren’t getting paid,” said Karen Strid-Chadwick, music department chair. “We try to feature as many (local musicians) as possible. It’s good for the students to see the many jazz artists we have in the area.”

A strong advocate for promoting jazz, Fisher has performed for the jazz benefit concerts for five years. It’s an opportunity to nurture the young and old and to carry on this great art form, said the mother of four. Her sultry vocals and fluid piano playing can match any big name jazz performer from the lower 48 states, but she chooses to live and play here at home.

“It’s sad to say, but if you’re from Alaska we don’t really appreciate our own fantastic jazz talent,” Strid-Chadwick said.

Fisher echoed that sentiment by noting the lack of jazz clubs in Anchorage.

“A quarter of a million people in this town and there isn’t one true jazz club where the music is the focus.”

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When the Jazzmom sat at the piano her long, blond hair nearly touched the bench, the only contrast against the 9-foot black Steinway and her black clothes. The audience members bopped their heads; crossed legs swung to the beat and hands tapped knees.

“I love playing here, the music sounds so good in here,” Fisher said. The intimate crowd of about 50 agreed with resounding applause after every song and sometimes in the middle of a song.

The final 2004-2005 Jazz Week benefit concert is Feb. 23, when the After Six Jazz Orchestra presents a concert at UAA.

Will Tompkins, a part-time UAA music student, has attended all four benefit concerts and is sure to catch the February event as well as the March Jazz Week. “I like the fact it’s out there, somewhere, for people to hear this great jazz.”

Jazz Week, March 7-13, is an annual celebration of the beloved American genre. Various performances, workshops and clinics are designed around jazz music and dance. Rebeca Mauleón, world-renowned pianist, composer, author and educator will perform and teach during the weeklong jazz festival.

“It’s our 20th annual event to promote the education of jazz through its dissemination and appreciation,” Strid-Chadwick said. “We want to see more performers as well as more audience.”

For more information about Jazz Week or the Jazz Week Benefit Concert series, contact Karen Strid-Chadwick, chair of the UAA Department of Music, at 786-1684.