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Jazz Night at Appalachian Theater Serves as a Prelude to the Second Annual High Country Jazz Festival

Watauga High School Jazz Band

By Kris Testori

All the large jazz ensembles and jazz bands in Watauga County performed at a joint concert for the first time Friday evening at Appalachian Theater. 

“This led to a great evening of these groups coming together to share jazz fellowship,” said Todd Wright, Director of Jazz Studies at Appalachian State University. 

Wright explained he was very excited when Suzanne Messenger Livesay, the Executive Director at Appalachian Theatre, asked him if he’d like to get Appalachian State University’s Jazz Ensemble together with the Watauga High School Jazz Band to present a concert. 

“I immediately said yes,” Wright said. “But I wanted to include Watauga Community Bands’ jazz group, the local band Swing Set, and Appalachian States’ other large jazz ensemble,” he added. 

Wright noted the concert was extra special Friday because it provided a platform to honor Steve Frank, who was the Musical Director and organizer of the band Swing Set and died unexpectedly in December. 

Swing Set 

“He was a great lover and supporter of music in every way,” Wright said.

“Jazz Night was a perfect warm up for our Second Annual High Country Jazz Festival in early June,” Wright explained. “I asked the audience how many of them were at the Appalachian Theatre for the first time, and many hands went up. I hope those people, and many others, will enjoy events there as much as possible. Our community needs an event space just its size. The theater is an amazing art déco space. It’s the perfect size for entertainment of many types, and particularly jazz.”

The 2nd Annual High Country Jazz Festival is June 9-11. 

“The jazz festival is going to be spectacular, again,” Wright said. “The festival features a great line-up including the Legendary Count Basie Orchestra, the Emmet Cohen Trio, and the Reggie Buie Group. Participants can also enjoy jazz at dinners, lectures, jam sessions, cocktail hours, and a Sunday brunch. Last year’s enthusiasm was tremendous, and we want to build on that. We have a ton of great people organizing this year’s concerts and other events.”  

Wright shared that while he has played at many festivals, helping to organize and run one has been a real eye opener and a wonderful experience. 

“June in the High Country is the perfect time and place for a jazz festival,” he said. “I’m sure I can speak for all of us organizing the festival when I give a huge shout out to all of our sponsors and friends who are making this possible. It really takes a village. We will fill the weekend with tons of fun, so I hope to see lots of people at all the events.”

Headliner performances are at the Appalachian Theatre and Chetola Resort & Spa. More information and tickets can be found online

“Y’all come out for this big party because we will be cookin’ up some incredible jazz,” Wright said. “I can taste the excitement right now.”