University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Jazz in June concerts take place every Tuesday evening during the month of June. Music begins at 7 p.m. and the concerts are free, though concertgoers are asked to make a minimum donation of $10 per family to continue the series.
Jazz in June is one of Lincoln’s largest community events. It is important to provide citizens entertainment and cultural programs that provide a superior quality of life in the community. It is important to provide families, students and people of all ages an opportunity to come together as a community. Economically, it is important to have cultural assets to attract and retain businesses and jobs.
Jazz in June has grown from a promotional concert event to bring awareness and visitors to the Sheldon Museum of Art into its own cultural entity. Jazz in June has moved from being a Sheldon Museum of Art event to a UNL and community organization whose sole mission is to present the annual concert series. The organization is expanding community involvement by having an Advisory Board made up of both University staff and community representation.
The audience served is a reflection of the Lincoln community. People of all ages, economic backgrounds and ethnic profiles attend the program. One of the objectives of Jazz in June is to serve diverse populations including community members who normally are unable to attend cultural programs. Community partnerships and outreach efforts will take place to maintain and increase diverse participation in the program. The total number of people served is estimated to over 20,000.
The event that started out as a magnet for young art lovers and to share educational information about works in the Sheldon sculpture garden has become a Lincoln tradition.
Kathy Piper, the former executive director of the Nebraska Art Association, was on the planning committee during the first Jazz in June, and she said the group had no idea what to expect for the first concert. The only promotion for the event was a batch of mailed postcards.
“I had no idea who was coming,” she said.
People began to arrive. Piper estimates the crowd that first night at around 500. The board members could not have been more pleased.
The concerts began to grow from there – mostly through word of mouth. The Lincoln Journal Star wrote reviews of every concert and published photos. The event started to catch on.
The Nebraska Jazz Orchestra was one of the first groups to play at Jazz in June. Dave Sharp, a former instructor in jazz studies and jazz history at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln School of Music spearheaded the coordination of the bands during the first several years. Because money was short, he’d cobble together groups of two or three of his musician friends or ask a local group to play for little money. Dan Ladely, now the director of the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, also volunteered to help coordinate musicians.
It was not long before Jazz in June’s reputation as the herald of summer began to draw musicians and audiences from all over the country for “Great Jazz in the Great Outdoors.” In the mid-1990s, Berman Music Foundation founder Butch Berman joined the Jazz in June committee. It was Berman’s knowledge and passion for jazz and his foundation’s sponsorship that catapulted Jazz in June to the next level.
For more than 10 years, the Berman Music Foundation served as a valued partner, team member, and stakeholder to the Jazz in June music series. In 2004, Jazz in June began to experience record crowds with the performances of the then 14-year old jazz piano wunderkind Eldar Djangurov and his trio and the Kendra Shank Quartet. Under the tutelage of Berman, Jazz in June was able to bring many of the nation’s most accomplished jazz artists to the stage. Berman, who passed away January 31, 2008, devoted much of his final days to planning that year’s series. To show their appreciation, the Jazz in June committee dedicated the 2008 concert series to his memory.
As the crowds grew so did the community interest. Corporate support began to increase, as did in-kind services and the event’s volunteer base. In 2005, the Farmer’s Market which was traditionally a Saturday Haymarket event, found its way to Tuesdays in June, with the tag line now evolving to “Great Jazz, Great Food, in the Great Outdoors.” The same year, Sheldon and University Landscape Services started sculpture garden tours, and docents were stationed in the museum to encourage people to visit the exhibitions and answer questions.
Marthaellen Florence, who has been involved with 23 of the 25 Jazz in June concert series and has been the chairwoman of the event for more than 10 years, said she believes Jazz in June owes its longevity to the passion that it ignites in the people of Lincoln. “Where else can jazz lovers experience a front row seat to an international array of world class performers, free of charge under a summer prairie sky?”
Jazz in June is currently curated by The Lied Center for Performing Arts. For the past three years Jazz in June has been proud to grow a new education program for low-income community centers and Lincoln Public Schools. The family festival has also hosted many notable names in Jazz such as Terrance Blanchard, Arturo Sandoval, and Victor Lewis.