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Traditional Jazz Youth Band Festival

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“Take your time to shine!” encouraged the band evaluator. The shy saxophone player nodded and jumped back into her jazz solo.

Constructive feedback and encouragement were the focus of Saturday’s Traditional Jazz Youth Band Festival held at California State University, Sacramento.

The event brought elementary school through college level jazz players together for a day of performances, evaluation by professional musicians and educators, clinics and opportunities to jam with the pros.

Approximately 200 youth musicians in 30 bands filled the music building with the lively sounds of traditional jazz. Band names were as improvisational and free as the jazz form they play. “Stinky Cheese Hobos,” “Red Hot Moldy Fig Stompin’ Babies,” “Shave and a Haircut,” “Green Tie Jazz Band” and “Gelato" were among the more colorful.

Traditional jazz is an American born and bred music genre from the early 1900’s. It includes New Orleans style, classic jazz, Dixieland, Chicago style and hot jazz among its forms. Bands often include vocalists, trumpet, trombone, clarinet or saxophone and rhythm instrument such as bass, drums, banjo or tuba. 

The mission of the festival is to keep traditional jazz alive by encouraging younger generations to enjoy and perform the music. In its seventh year, the festival appears to be making headway towards its goal. Festival clinician Jason Wanner says that the base of interest is “expanding and getting younger.” 

Bill Dendle, director of an annual Sacramento jazz camp for youth, has also seen an increased interest in traditional jazz by the younger generation. He attributes this interest to educational camps and festivals. Dendle noted that some jazz camp participants have become music teachers who in turn started student jazz bands; some of which are in today’s festival. 

Felicia Greenwood Weatherly is one such example. She attended the Sacramento youth jazz camps and today is a music teacher. She directs several “Sea-Monkey” jazz bands who performed at yesterday’s festival.

Dendle also noted that other camp or festival participants have become professional musicians, such as the “World’s Finest Apples Jazz Band,” Bria Skonberg and Lucy Wineman.

Organized by Steve Roach and Yvonne Au, the event was staffed by a team of 100 volunteers.

“If we don’t encourage kids, there isn’t going to be any jazz. It’s a treasure we need to preserve,” said Volunteer Coordinator Joy Skalbeck.

John Horn, President of the Davis High School Band Boosters, is enthusiastic about the festival. Two of his children participated in yesterday’s event. Another of his children is a past participant who has gone on to play in the University of California, Berkeley band. 

The festival was sponsored by the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society Foundation and co-sponsored with Sac State University Jazz Studies. In December, the Foundation hosted a fundraiser at the Sacramento Yacht Club and raised over $12,000 towards scholarships and keeping festival band registration fees affordable.

Approximately $4,500 in scholarships for music lessons and jazz camp was awarded to individual musicians. Band director Celia Cottle was awarded the inaugural Jazz Education Award for her avid support of traditional jazz education.

Four bands were invited to give an encore performance towards the end of the evening, including bands from Arden Middle School, Rio Americano High School, J Street Studios and Brigham Young University.  

All festival musicians took their “time to shine” and are bringing fresh vigor and joy to the art of traditional jazz.

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