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Yellowstone Big Band

The 18-piece Yellowstone Big Band combines traditional and contemporary big band music. The group will highlight the second day of the Northwest Jazz Festival in Powell, Wyo., with a 7 p.m. concert Thursday at the high school auditorium.

POWELL, Wyo. ─ Sunny Wilkinson and the Yellowstone Big Band will highlight the 30th annual Northwest Jazz Festival with concerts Wednesday and Thursday at Northwest College in Powell.

Wilkinson will sing at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Powell High School Auditorium. The Yellowstone Big Band performs at 7 p.m. Thursday in the same location.

The festival has become a hallmark of Rocky Mountain jazz over the years, drawing Grammy-award winning performers and music students to Powell for three decades.

It will hit a bittersweet note this year with a farewell to its creator, Neil Hansen. After 31 years of teaching music at NWC and 30 years of organizing the festival, Hansen will retire in May. To help him celebrate, he has invited old friends to perform at the event.

For the festival’s vocal concert, he chose Sunny Wilkinson, a former festival highlighter and teacher at Hansen’s summer Yellowstone Jazz Camps.

Wilkinson’s voice can be heard in television commercials, in Hollywood films such as Liam Neeson’s “Darkman,” and in television shows including “Saved by the Bell.”

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Her style combines traditional jazz with the voice of her childhood inspirations, Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell. Wilkinson’s influence comes from folk, contemporary jazz, fusion and even Brazilian music.

Described as “mischievous” and “flexible,” the jazz vocalist is known for toying with rhythm and tonal color. She’s sung with the Count Basie Orchestra, Rob McConnell’s Boss Grass, Bill Watrous and Marvin Stamm.

Opening for Wilkinson will be the Wyoming High School Allstate Jazz Choir and the Northwest College Studio Singers.

The Yellowstone Big Band is a compilation of solo artists who travel to Wyoming each summer to teach at Hansen’s Yellowstone Jazz Camps. The 18-piece ensemble features a who’s who of music performers and educators from across the country who get together to perform once a year in the Rockies.

Hansen directs the group, whose members have performed with the likes of Buddy Rich, Paul Anka, Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Les Brown, Tom Jones and many others.

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Entertainment Reporter

Jaci Webb covers entertainment for The Billings Gazette.