Jackie Allen - File photo

Since their move to Lincoln in the early 2010s, Jackie Allen and Hans Sturm have cherished the atmosphere of Jazz in June, the annual jazz festival that occurs on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s campus each summer. As lovers of jazz, fans of Nebraska and a married couple, Allen and Sturm have found that hearing the many talented musicians play, as well as performing their own bass and vocal duet, is an experience unmatched by any other. 

However, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Jazz in June is taking a different approach, transitioning to online performances via Facebook Live to ensure safety in this strange time. Allen and Sturm will be the fourth act to perform live this Tuesday at 7 p.m..

Allen, a Wisconsin native, was introduced to jazz at a young age, as her father was an engineer who played Dixieland jazz and polka music part-time. Sturm hails from Pennsylvania, and while he started playing the violin in second grade, he would eventually fall in love with what he referred to as the “chocolate sound” of the upright bass. 

The two first played together at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where they both studied music as undergraduates. Allen was studying vocals, while Sturm continued to learn more about the bass. In the beginning of their musical endeavors, the duo performed together for the first time with a larger band, but eventually they began to play as a duet at various bars and cafes around Madison. 

“It was just voice and bass,” Allen said. “I had no idea that people would want to listen to it, or that it would actually work. But surprisingly when we performed, people seemed to enjoy it. It was a real ear-opener for me. It really forced me to trust myself as a musician, and to trust my sense of pitch, and to hear the harmony in my head. It was one of the best experiences I could have gotten as a developing musician.”

The two performed together throughout college, though they were not romantically involved at the time. After graduation, they went their separate ways and wouldn’t see one another again until much later when they were both professional musicians. They reconnected when Allen was performing in Chicago and Sturm was working on his doctorate at Northwestern. Then, Allen and Sturm began performing together once again, and their relationship blossomed.

Allen and Sturm made the move to Nebraska when Sturm was hired as a professor of double bass and jazz studies for the Glenn Korff School of Music. Shortly after the move, they fell in love with Jazz in June and the annual musical experience it provides.

Sturm said they quickly learned that Jazz in June is iconic in the area. He said it is something that everyone in the region looks forward to, and there’s a very special kind of energy that comes with playing for the festival. He’s always loved the energy, excitement and atmosphere of the event.

Allen and Sturm’s performance at Jazz in June this year will not be their first virtual performance, as the duo also performed online for the Lied Center last month. Sturm jokingly compared performing digitally to playing in front of the worst audience ever.

“It’s like a stand-up comedian telling a joke and nobody laughs,” Sturm said. “You get done playing a tune, and there’s nobody there to applaud. You don’t feel that energy and feedback, so you try to make your own. It’s like playing at a recording studio. You’re highly focused on what you’re doing, perhaps even more so than in a live situation.”

Sturm and Allen both said their Jazz in June performance this year will provide a variety of different tunes for audiences to enjoy. They will perform some of their personal favorite originals and covers, as well as plenty of songs that will be familiar to the audience. Allen said that even if viewers watched their performance with the Lied Center, they should watch the couple’s Jazz in June set, as it will be quite a bit different. 

The two expressed their love of providing an entertaining jazz experience to audience members of all ages, stating that Jazz in June is an excellent event, which is accessible to anyone. 

“I like the fact that it can expose a lot of people to jazz that maybe wouldn’t have otherwise been,” Allen said. “It’s a free event that can draw in families. I developed my love of music as a young child, so I enjoy being able to hopefully provide that experience to people of any age group.”