This year's Quad Cities Jazz Festival at first blush looks less impressive than previous incarnations. But appearances can be deceiving. You won't find much contemporary jazz this year, yet fans of the classic styles won't be disappointed.

Last year, the festival featured such highlights as saxophonist Kim Park, trombonist Paul McKee, and pianist Mulgrew Miller. Two years ago, the fest featured Randy Brecker among many other name performers.

This year's lineup? Friday's big concert at Augustana College features the Jim Widner Big Band - the outfit led by the jazz festival's musical director - while Saturday's club-themed concert at the Radisson Quad City Plaza showcases vocalist Marilyn Maye, who also performed last year.

But Widner's outfit is no slouch, with 18 world-class musicians performing classic jazz. "I've been wanting to get my big band up here for a long time," Widner said from his Missouri home. The band was planning a short tour this spring, so Widner decided, "If we're going to do it, this is the year - to show it off, primarily."

Its members hail from as far away as New York and California, and any opportunity to see this outfit is a rarity. The group only plays about 20 dates a year.

"My name's not Count Basie, but these are seasoned all-stars, world-class artists in their own right," said Widner, a bassist. "This band I can't afford to take out very often."

But don't just take Widner's word for it; listen to the music. "We might raise the bar a notch or two," he said. "We might not have as many big names [at the festival], but what they'll hear is going to measure up to what they've heard as long as I've been involved."

Saturday's Radisson show will feature Maye, who made dozens of appearances on the Tonight Show and was one of Johnny Carson's favorites. "She does what she does better than anybody I know," Widner said. Or as Carson once said, "This is how it's done."

The 10th-anniversary festival features a handful of events, both educational and entertaining. Young people can learn more about jazz at two events: "Jazz in the Neighborhood for Kids" on Thursday, May 15, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Col Ballroom in Davenport. The event is a jazz workshop and clinic for kids from grade school through junior high and features free pizza and soda. There is no admission charge. "The Clinic" - a jazz clinic for young people - will be held at 4:30 pm. on Friday, May 16, at the Moline Boys & Girls Club.

On Friday night, "The Concert" kicks off at 6 p.m. in Augustana College's Centennial Hall. The event is hosted by Hoagy Bix Carmichael and will feature the Augustana Jazz Band and the Jim Widner Big Band. Admission is $20, and tickets will be available at the door.

And on Saturday night is "Jazz & Cocktails" at the Radisson in downtown Davenport, with a nightclub-like setting for the music of the Manny Lopez Seven (6 p.m.) and - back by popular demand - singer Maye, performing in a trio (7:30 p.m.). Tickets are also $20 and available at the door.

For more information on the Quad Cities Jazz Festival, call (309)762-0736. Tickets for "The Concert" and "Jazz & Cocktails" are also available at local Hy-Vee stores.

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