It's time to get down and get funky with some great jazz . . . on the harp.

Yes, you read that correctly. This week, the Lyon & Healy Jazz & Pop Harpfest will get under way at the University of Utah, bringing in nationally and internationally recognized artists for concerts and classes.

"(The Harpfest) usually happens every three years," said ShruDeLi Ownby, director of Lyon & Healy West, "but this one hasn't been held for six years now. So it's kind of a big deal. It's the first time it's ever been held in Salt Lake City."

The festival features evening performances by guest performers. "These are players that are playing steady jobs in clubs or all summer they're at festivals in Europe," said Ownby, "so we're bringing in different people together that you wouldn't normally hear unless you were in a large city in a club."

Emmy-winning composer Mark Wood, who is also the inventor of the Viper violin, will be featured Wednesday evening, as well as Carol Robbins and Lori Andrews, who will be performing with a jazz quartet (bass, drums and saxophone). The Lakewood Project will also be featured, which combines electric harps, violins, violas and cellos, with traditional orchestral instruments performed by student harpists from Utah.

On Thursday, Cindy Horstman, Jan Jennings and Laurie Riley will take the stage.

"Laurie Riley is very good at improvisation," said Ownby, "but she's also good at things that involve therapy for harp, and Cindy Horstman plays with a fantastic bass player."

Jennings, she said, knows an extensive repertoire of music by memory and can play "anything," which Ownby added, is quite remarkable for harp.

Kazoo-playing Phala Tracy (who straps the kazoo to her harp) will join Ray Pool and Paul Baker for Friday night's concert. "What's interesting about (Tracy) is that she has very complex rhythms while she's playing," said Ownby, "and simultaneously sings yet another line." Tracy, she added, has recently released a new CD with nonsense songs for children.

Perhaps the best-known artists will be wrapping up the festival on Saturday: Park Stickney, who splits his residence between New York and Geneva, Switzerland, is best known for his jazz-harp playing — although he also stays involved with a wide variety of music, from classical to rock ensembles. And Kim Robertson is considered a pioneer in the American folk-harp movement, combining tradition with innovation.

Each concert will also give the student harpists a chance to strut their stuff by devoting some time at the beginning for various types of student-harp performances.

While the harp may not be most commonly associated with jazz, technology has opened a lot of doors for the traditionally classical instrument. Ownby said that a lot of electric harps, as well as electronics professionals like Wood, will be on hand.

But technology alone doesn't give the harp that cutting-edge, jazz sound. "One of the problems with playing jazz on the harp," Ownby said, "is that we have pedals, which are the half steps — so you have to understand theory quite well to know what you can leave out in order to make chromatics really work."

One of the benefits of the Harpfest is that attendees will also have a number of classes to choose from, taught by the professionals. "What's really exciting about this is that the players give away their tricks," Ownby said.

In addition, career-minded harpists will have photo and recording sessions made available to them, so they can leave the conference with a professional package.

Although the audience for the festival is mostly national, Ownby said that participants this year are traveling from as far away as Japan and Germany, primarily because the competition offers a hefty prize — a $1,250 cash prize, plus a showcase performance at Harpfest 2007, and one arrangement to be published by Lyon & Healy.

The second-place winner takes home $600; third place is $400. Also, this year, representatives from the Berklee College of Music in Boston will award a scholarship to a competitor.


If you go. . .

What: Lyon & Healy International Jazz & Pop Harpfest

Where: Libby Gardner Hall, University of Utah

When: Wednesday-Saturday, 8 p.m.

How much: $15

Phone: 877-621-3881

Web:www.lyonhealy.com


E-mail: rcline@desnews.com