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Michael Worthy’s Mississippians set to return to the Double Decker Festival after 21 years

By Jeff McVay

Michael Worthy has been waiting a long time for this weekend. Years in fact.

“We’ve (the Mississippians Jazz Ensemble) been trying to get in the Double Decker lineup for years,” a smiling Worthy said in a recent interview. “And this year, it finally happened … again.

“Bill Russell and the UM Jazz Alumni Association were involved in the earliest Double Decker Festivals,” Worthy said. “The Mississippians were actually the very first act to play at the first Double Decker Festival in 1996. I’ve been working to get us in the lineup steadily for the last five years.”

Since 2005, The Mississippians Jazz Ensemble — an 18-piece big band — has been under the colorful direction of Worthy. Members of the band are Ole Miss undergraduate and graduate students majoring in music and other academic disciplines. The talented students enroll for academic credit and meet three times a week for rehearsals — not a bad gig at all.

The Mississippians ensemble includes members Rory Young, Mayuka Ishii, Ryne Anderson, Paul Blanco and Christopher Scott on saxophone; Matt Moore, Jamie Geoghegan, John Cooper Lawton and Kyle Dozier on trumpet; Kurt Hickey, Quayshun Shumpert, Matt Cheek and Gabe Mosley on trombone; with the rhythm section rounding out the band, featuring Lazarrus Miller, Taylor Meador and Tommy Burnette.

Also featured in the band’s rhythm section is guitarist Alicia Venchuk, who won an Outstanding Soloist citation when the group played at the Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival in South Bend in 2016.

The band’s repertoire scatters across a wide variety of genres, from jazz to swing and artists from Duke Ellington to the Average White Band.

“We play Count Basie and Duke Ellington as well as contemporary composers like Gordon Goodwin and John Clayton,” Worthy said. “We’re putting together a swingin’ set with the addition of some of fun, crowd-pleasing arrangements like ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ by the Average White Band, as well as soulful jazz standards like ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ by Joe Zawinul.”

Another gig in the band’s immediate future will be at the Talahatchie Jazz Festival in New Albany on May 6 — which should be a breeze after its Double Decker warmup this weekend.

Other exciting news is on the horizon for the talented group of Rebels, but the focus right now is on their return to Double Decker and the Specialty Orthopedic Group music stage.

The Mississippians Jazz Ensemble will open Saturday’s Double Decker festivities at 10:15 a.m.