Putting together a two-day jazz festival at Gilbert’s Highland High School is no small feat. But with little jazz education available in Arizona, organizers say the March festival will be an inexpensive opportunity for local bands to work with professional musicians.
Middle school, high school and college jazz bands are invited to sign up and will be treated to various clinics with professional musicians, a critique and professional recording of their performance, and two concerts with well-known musicians.
Lewis Nelson, assistant band director at Highland High, is organizing the first Highland Jazz Festival planned for March 26-27 in the school’s auditorium. Nelson has been planning the festival for the past two years, along with Highland band director Kevin Bennett, and Michael Kocour, the director of jazz studies at Arizona State University.
“We’re really excited for it,” said Nelson, the festival’s chief executive officer.
The festival is in need of sponsors and donors, and the goal is to raise $30,000. The money would help pay for the headlining artists, continue the festival the following year and help support jazz education.
Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Bob Mintzer, and Wycliffe Gordon, a trombonist who won the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Foundation Vanguard Award, will headline the weekend of jazz education. Five college band directors and ASU’s jazz faculty and concert jazz band will also perform.
A high school band will be chosen that weekend to open for Gordon at the March 27 (Saturday) concert.
The headlining concerts will be open to the public, with seating first offered to the attending jazz students. Any remaining tickets will go on sale in January for $25 a night, or $40 for the two concerts.
The goal is to continue the jazz festival annually, and eventually move it to the Mesa Arts Center, Nelson said.
“Growing up in Moscow, Idaho, I saw the vastness of jazz performers with the annual Lionel Hampton (International) Jazz Festival,” Bennett said. “It’s the biggest jazz festival in the world and was a huge positive experience for students and band directors.”
The Highland Jazz Festival is a way to start that experience in Arizona, Bennett said.
There are 17 local jazz bands signed up, but Nelson hopes at least 30 will register for the festival. The deadline to sign up is Jan. 8, and the cost is $250 per band. The plan is to grow the festival to offer education to as many as 100 jazz bands.
The college band directors will help lead the clinics and offer critiques while the jazz bands perform. Separate critiques will also be offered on each instrument in the band, from the guitar and drums, to the saxophone and piano.
Daniel Malone, owner of Mouse Recording, a Phoenix recording studio, will also record each band’s performance and give the bands three CDs of their music, Nelson said.
Highland senior Dan Bitter said he’s looking forward to the festival for the experience. He also wants others to realize how well Highland’s bands are performing.
“Our concerts are pretty empty,” said Bitter, 17, who plays trumpet in the wind ensemble, jazz band and marching band. “I want people to know we’re here and playing good music.”
The Highland band won the state marching band championships in November, and Highland’s wind ensemble was chosen to perform in January at the Arizona Music Educators Association state conference.
For more information, to register or donate to the Highland Jazz Festival, call (480) 813-0051, ext. 4421, or visit highlandhighband.org.