A milestone: University hosts 50th Annual Jazz Festival  

A milestone moment will occur March 1 in Pittsburg State University history: the 50th Annual PSU Jazz Festival. 

The festival was started in 1974 by Professor of Music Russell Jones with just 14 bands. In 1978, he passed the baton to Professor Robert Kehle, who continued to grow it until his retirement in 2023. It’s now coordinated by a committee of music faculty with Kehle as a consultant. 

Now at capacity, it will draw 70 high school jazz bands from across the region to perform for notable judges throughout the day at Memorial Auditorium and the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts. Those performances are open to the public, but anyone stopping by to listen should be mindful of entering only between performances and of the etiquette required for sitting in on a judged concert. 

Many of the participating bands are directed by music educators who got their start in Pitt State’s Music Department and who once performed in the Jazz Festival themselves. 

“I've had the privilege of being part of the festival for 27 years and it’s a landmark cultural event for our area, the university, and the state of Kansas,” Hastings said. “Bob Kehle has done a wonderful job of turning the festival into a must-see event, inspiring countless students, educators, and professional musicians. It’s an incredibly exciting event that the students and the community look forward to each year.” 

The evening concert, planned for 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium, will open as it has for many years with a performance by the PSU Jazz Ensemble comprised of some of the most talented music students from Pitt State under the direction of Hastings.  

The evening concert also always draws a famous headliner. Past festivals have seen the likes of Doc Severinsen, Maynard Ferguson, Louie Bellson, the Count Basie Orchestra, the Tom Kubis Big Band, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Wycliffe Gordon and His International All Stars, and many others. 

This year’s concert will feature the Matt Catingub Big Band.  

The Matt Catingub Big Band  

The evening ticketed concert will kick off with the PSU Jazz Ensemble, directed by Professor Todd Hastings, before the headliner takes the stage.   

Matt Catingub is considered one of the pioneers of the modern Big Band. The son of the great jazz vocalist and “Polynesia’s First Lady of Song,” Mavis Rivers, he is a proud Pacific Islander. In his early years, he performed with her around the world, including a 1983 performance for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.  

At age 17, he performed and presented his original big band compositions at the Monterey Jazz Festival, with that success catapulting him to a tour of Japan playing with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones, and Ruth Brown.   

Right out of high school, Catingub joined the big bands of Louie Bellson, who performed at Pitt State in the mid-1980s.  

He was only 21 when he formed his first big band in Los Angeles and released his first recording, “My Mommy and Me,” which is recognized as one of the great break-out jazz recordings. It featured many of his hits that still resonate today, including “Blues and the Abscessed Tooth” and “Bopopularity,” and featured his mother.  

He then released “Hi Tech Big Band,” one of the most innovative recordings of the genre, on which he performed all of the instruments, electronically recreating the sound of a big band while also introducing more big band classics like “The Umpire Strikes Back” and “Indian Riffs.”  

His credits also include touring the world with the legendary Rosemary Clooney, and creating the music for the film “Goodnight and Good Luck,” which won a Grammy and allowed him the chance to work with jazz great Diane Reeves and writer-director George Clooney.  

He has conducted, created, and performed with symphonic pop orchestras, including the Hawaii & Honolulu Symphony Pops, the Glendale Pops in L.A., and the Macon Pops near Atlanta, Georgia. With these entities he has conducted, performed, and orchestrated for artists like Al Jarreau, Diana Krall, Michael McDonald, and Kenny Loggins.  

Last year marked the rebirth of the Matt Catingub Big Band, and the release “From Samoa to Sinatra,” celebrating the music of Frank Sinatra and Catingub’s mother, the first female artist Sinatra signed to his Reprise Records label in 1961.  

Performing brand new arrangements and revisiting many of his hit originals, his band presents an exciting mix of old and new, including using technology to perform with “mom from the past” using tracks recorded while his mother was pregnant with him!  

The concert will feature his longtime superstar drummer Steve Moretti and vocalist Michelle Amato.  


Tickets for the evening concert are $16 for adults and $10 for children, seniors, and military. Pitt State students are admitted free, and discounted tickets for PSU faculty and staff are available with valid Pitt State ID.    

They may be purchased or picked up at the PSU Ticket Office in 137 Garfield Weede Building before 4 p.m. They also may be purchased at 620-235-4796 or at pittstate.edu/tickets, or at the door at Memorial Auditorium starting an hour before the show, based on availability.