Sixth annual Gatsby’s Gala a festive party focused on local music, mission

The Chippewa Valley’s can’t-miss event of the season comes roaring back Nov. 8 with a renewed focus on celebrating musicians with local roots and supporting excellence in jazz education. 

Gatsby’s Gala, the 1920s-themed party that transforms the third floor of UW-Eau Claire's Davies Center into a wild musical bash, serves as a fundraiser for the Eau Claire Jazz Festival and UW-Eau Claire’s jazz studies program. The annual gala, which features music, dancing and charity gaming — as well as guests decked out in their finest Roaring ‘20s costumes — is back for its sixth installment at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8.

“This year’s gala is a chance for us to focus on musicians with ties to the Chippewa Valley and on the tremendous educational value the gala helps make possible,” said Bob Baca, the Margaret and Jack O’Farrell Director of Jazz at UW-Eau Claire and the artistic director for Eau Claire Jazz Inc. “Everyone who buys a ticket for Gatsby’s Gala is both investing in an unforgettable evening of entertainment and in the future of music education for this region.” 

After its debut in 2014, Gatsby’s Gala has become a fixture on the Chippewa Valley’s calendar of events and is presented by Eau Claire Jazz Inc. and UW-Eau Claire. ECJI formed in 2008 to support the UW-Eau Claire jazz studies program. ECJI executive director Quentin Volk says the organization’s ability to contribute funds toward a new UW-Eau Claire jazz studies scholarship and to provide annual support for the Eau Claire Jazz Festival is increasingly due to the gala.

“Gatsby’s Gala isn’t just the best party of the year; proceeds from the event support student scholarships and help operate the annual Eau Claire Jazz Festival, now in its 54th year,” Volk said. “Eau Claire Jazz Inc. is all about raising funds to support jazz education, expanding opportunities for UW-Eau Claire jazz studies students to get real-world performance experience, and fostering jazz appreciation in the community. Gatsby’s Gala epitomizes our commitment to this mission.”

This year’s gala will feature UW-Eau Claire’s Jazz I and Jazz II ensembles, joined by returning guest artists Kathryn Rhutasel, Sue Orfield, Shannon Kaeding and Joel Pace. Rhutasel, a UW-Eau Claire senior majoring in English education, will be the featured vocalist with Jazz I under the direction of Baca. Orfield, who calls the Chippewa Valley home, is lead saxophonist and composer for the Sue Orfield Band. Kaeding, a Fall Creek native known for her stunning jazz vocals, has a new album coming in 2020. Pace, the leader of the soul/funk band Irie Sol and a UW-Eau Claire professor of English, also will be a featured vocalist.

New to Gatsby’s Gala this year are the Torch Sisters and Michael Andrew.

The Torch Sisters, an Eau Claire-based performing circus troupe, will provide entertainment as the “Absinthe Ladies” and enchant the crowd with lucid movement, burlesque shadow-play and gravity-defying strength in their aerial performances.

Andrew is a 1987 UW-Eau Claire theatre graduate and a Sinatra-esque crooner who has headlined Merv Griffin’s Coconut Club at the Beverly Hilton and the world-renowned Rainbow Room at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York. He also starred as the title character in the musical “The Nutty Professor,” directed by Jerry Lewis. Andrew, a frequent guest artist of major U.S. symphony pops orchestras, is making his Gatsby’s Gala debut. He’ll return to Eau Claire Dec. 6 to appear in concert with UW-Eau Claire’s Jazz I and Jazz II ensembles before headlining the Desert Symphony’s “Michael Andrew Holiday Spectacular” in Palm Desert, California.

Bre DeNure, the student festival director for the 2020 Eau Claire Jazz Festival and a UW-Eau Claire senior organizational communications major, said community support through Gatsby’s Gala helps UW-Eau Claire jazz students participate in incredible performance opportunities and also engages the next generation of jazz musicians.

“Having had the chance to play the gala as a member of a jazz ensemble and to help facilitate the incredible education jazz students get through participating in the Eau Claire Jazz Festival, I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact of community support for Gatsby’s Gala,” DeNure said. “This year’s gala promises to be an incredible evening with an even bigger long-term impact.”

Tickets for the sixth annual Gatsby’s Gala are available through the UW-Eau Claire Service Center. Learn more about Eau Claire Jazz Inc. and the Eau Claire Jazz Festival at eauclairejazz.com. For additional information, contact Quentin Volk, Eau Claire Jazz Inc. executive director, at 970-685-2533 or quentin.volk@eauclairejazz.com.