The popularity, prestige and tradition of annual Jazz Festival rooted by generations of dedicated music alumni

BISMARCK, ND — Katie and Eric Rooke knew each other back in middle school. They weren’t childhood sweethearts, but in love with music. If music is what introduced the Rookes to each other, then it’s attending the annual University of Mary Jazz Festival over the past decades in various capacities that has helped bond them ­— first as classmates at Bismarck High School, then as Mary students and now as alumni.

“We both ended up going to the University of Mary to major in music education,” commented Katie. “We were friends in college, too, but we didn’t end up dating until our last year of college (2004-2005). We got married right after graduation and both got music teaching jobs at Williston High School.”

And both have been bringing their music students to the Jazz Festival ever since. They’re two of 13 University of Mary alumni accompanying their music students to be adjudicated at this year’s 43rd annual Jazz Festival Friday, January 29-30 at the University of Mary. This will be Chris Harvey’s 32nd-year attending Mary’s Jazz Festival — 10 as a student in junior high and high school in Mandan and college at the University of Mary — and now his 22nd-year as instrumental instructor at Hazen schools.

Matt Wilson Photo by Michael Jackson

Matt Wilson
Photo by Michael Jackson

“I remember the importance that my instructors put on the festival throughout my time as a member of the Mandan band program,” added Harvey. “Although the festival was billed as ‘non-competitive’ I don’t think we treated it that way. We always wanted to perform our best at the festival, especially when we were playing in front of the other area schools. I am proud of my students’ accomplishments at the festival. Since the festival began awarding outstanding performances awhile back, groups from Hazen have received that honor multiple times. Coming from a smaller school, this has been a source of pride for my students and has inspired them to work hard to prepare for the festival. I always want my students to do their best at the festival. I think they want to do their best as well because they know the event is important to me.”

This premier event is capped off by the Jazz Festival concert Saturday, January 30, 4 p.m., at the Belle Mehus Auditorium featuring the energizing sounds of world-renowned drummer Matt Wilson. This Grammy nominee has performed at the White House and with music legends Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Elvis Costello and many more. Wilson will be joined by jazz greats Alex Iles, trombone; Matt Harris, piano; Glenn Kostur, saxophone; Kim Nazarian, vocalist; Shon Parker, vocalist; Jennifer Scovell Parker, vocalist and the University of Mary Jazz Ensemble and Vocal Jazz. The public can purchase tickets for $10 at the door, Eckroth Music, or online at

University of Mary Jazz Festival Concert at the Belle Mehus Auditorium in Bismarck Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, 4 p.m.

University of Mary Jazz Festival Concert at the Belle Mehus Auditorium in Bismarck Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, 4 p.m.

Harvey and the Rookes know through their experiences at the Jazz Festival that it’s an opportunity for their students to have fun, learn and rub elbows with the world’s best musicians like they’ve done over the past few decades.

“My first experience was in 7th grade,” commented Eric Rooke. “The thing I remember most was how cool it was to see professional jazz players. They really seemed larger than life to me. I remember meeting Bob Mintzer after the Friday night concert at the Radisson Inn. It was something I have always remembered and I still have the poster with his autograph on it. Meeting and working with Ruben Alvarez and Lisa Henry. I also loved the experience of recording with Bob Montgomery. His professionalism in the studio and during that week was amazing. I have always looked back at that and thought that was one of the coolest things I have ever done.”

Cool memories that Rooke passes on to his students that will undoubtedly be similar to ones made by all the attendees at this year’s Jazz Festival — a musical tradition that keeps giving and giving and giving for generations.

Jazz 4 for Web