Jazz night brings arts, culture to Great Falls audiences

Jazz is returning to the Ozark Club tonight.

The room at The History Museum has held jazz concerts and programming for the last decade and tonight, it’s featuring Afro-Latin jazz with John Roberts y Pan Blanco.

The Ozark Club was resurrected about a decade ago and pays homage to a black jazz club that was on the southside of Great Falls that “was really ahead of its time,” before the civil rights movement, said Kristi Scott in her first year as the museum’s director.

The Ozark Club “speaks to some of Great Falls’ progressive nature when it comes to music,” Scott said.

Tonight’s sold out show features John Roberts, a Montana native, who spent two decades in Los Angeles, and returned to teach at Montana State University-Billings.

He started playing piano when he was 5, was in a band at 11 and has played with the likes of Fallout Boy, Chris Botti, Feist, Celia Cruz, Tito Nieves, Sting, Dr. Dre, Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Frank Sinatra Jr., Chaka Khan, Burt Bacharach, The Ojays, Cher, Christina Aguilera  and others.

Roberts said he hopes the show brings awareness to different styles of music to the people who attend.

He said that when music programming is hosted at museums, it can bring more awareness to the arts and cultures and how cultures can be traced by their artistic endeavors.

Roberts said he hopes events like this tears people away from their Netflix queues and gets people out of the house.

It’s the first time in about eight years, Scott said, that a jazz show has sold out at the museum.

“Great Falls, it turns out, is pretty hungry for exciting cultural opportunities like this,” she said.

Since the city is relatively isolated geographically, Great Falls doesn’t get the same musical opportunities the cities like Bozeman or Missoula get with their larger venue spaces for concerts, Scott said, but Great Falls is seated in a big county with a lot of history and culture.

“I think that we warrant entertainment that reflects the diversity of culture in our region,” Scott said. “So I love that the cultural institutions– the museums, the Symphony– that we work so hard to make Great Falls an incredible place to live. Part of being an incredible place to live is having cultural options.”

In February, The History Museum will be hosting the Bud Nicholls Big Band for a night of sweets and swing. Scott suggested that people save the date and get tickets early.

“This is giving us an opportunity to work with a band from out of the area, while the travel conditions are still really conducive, then this winter, we’re going to bring our old favorites the Bud Nicholls band back,” Scott said.

Tonight, Roberts will talk about the history of jazz and Scott will talk about the history of the Ozark Club.

The event will also feature Caribbean small bites from Jah T’aime and dancing.

It’s an interactive, engaging show, Roberts said, and a way to experience art.

“We’ve been running into people just staying home and being entertained at the click of a button,” Roberts said. “You really don’t catch the energy unless you’re in the room with it, so hopefully some people will feel that and get addicted to more of that.”

He said that it never fails, even if attendees aren’t familiar with the style of music, that once they start playing, people start moving regardless.

“It’s fun to watch,” Roberts said.

Throughout his career, Roberts has traveled and said that “it always seems when there’s a vibrant arts culture, there’s more community movements toward charities, there’s always more people out being around each other, stepping away from whatever Netflix world we’re in. There’s more human to human contact in this digital world.”

Roberts said he’s never played at The History Museum and is “looking forward to meeting some new people. That’s the most fun part of the job.”

Scott said the jazz night is building on the work of past directors and boards and one of her goals as director is to makes sure history is relevant to the community.

“History doesn’t have to be static,” Scott said. “What’s really important about history is how it’s relevant to your life today and jazz music in the Ozark Club at The History Museum is relevant to who we are today as citizens of Cascade County.”

Roberts has a PBS special coming out in November when he’s opening the next season of 11th and Grant.

The History Museum also has several other events planned for the coming months:

  • Oct. 12: Ken Robison is speaking about Montanans and World War I.
  • Nov. 9: Free Christmas concert with historic piano pieces and and open house in the museum gift shop.
  • Feb. 1: Sweets and Swing with the Bud Nichols Big Band.