Jazz Festival jives with success

The loud chirps of a trumpet skipped through the air, combining with the irregular taps of drumsticks and the hum of activity as the jazz players practiced their music and enjoyed the warm Saturday’s festivities. Coming from all over Southern California, these teens and professionals gathered at NPHS on March 12 for the ninth annual Jazz Festival.

Alison Johnston, freshman, described the festival as, “basically a place where schools from all over the district gather to perform and compete and get judges feedback and go to clinics.”

Groups from middle school, high school, and some colleges participated, in big bands of 17-20 people, or combos with 3-5 people. Two big bands from NPHS competed, and Johnston plays the electric bass for the Jazz 1 group.

Each group has been preparing since the start of term two, but Jazz 1 contains mostly upperclassmen who have experience in jazz, while Jazz 2 is made up of mostly underclassmen, many of whom learned new instruments specifically for this band. Dennis Crystal, the band director, praised the group for working so hard and so fast.

“In two months they learned a new instrument and a new style of music and got enough together to go out and perform as a group . . . It’s pretty impressive,” he said. “It speaks super highly of their dedication.”

Chloe Budnik, sophomore and barry saxophonist for Jazz 2, related her experience performing in front of the judges.

“I think it went pretty well. I will say that it was a little bit shaky, because everybody was nervous; it was our first concert. But, other than that, it went well,” she said.

When each group plays for the judging panel, they receive recorded comments and feedback from the judges, esteemed teachers and professional musicians, as well as individual scores from every evaluator and a calculated overall score. The rating system is one through five, Superior, Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor. While Jazz 1 earned Superiors and Jazz 2 received Excellents, Crystal explained why the event is less about competition and more about the learning process.

“There is no first, second, and third place. . . The entire event is oriented towards jazz education,” he said.

Organizing the event to be an all day affair, Crystal filled the time not taken up by evaluations with various workshops as well as featured concerts from special guests. This year’s guest artists were the Cal State Northridge big band playing with award winning drummer Steve Houghton, and the LA College of Music big band with grammy winning Gordon Goodwin.

In addition to performing, these famous musicians also led workshops, and Jeremy Stein, junior, played with Steve Houghton in his seminar.

“They were having student volunteers play with them. . . and I was lucky enough to play with Steve and Matt Harris, and it was a lot of fun, it was awesome,” Jeremy said.

There some unexpected special guests at the Jazz Festival as well: the Helpful Honda people. In one of their Random Acts of Helpfulness, they visited NPHS to assist the student volunteers, their bright blue shirts showing parents where to go.

However, the Jazz Festival was not about with volunteers or even about the judges’ scores, and would not have been the same with any other type of music. As Johnston puts it, it is all about the jazz.

“If you could have creativity at it’s simplest form, that would be jazz,” Johnston said. “It’s just a pure form internal expression, that really nothing else can compare to.”


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