The next generation of jazz was center stage at Bainbridge High School during the Puget Sound Jazz Festival April 15.
The 5th annual festival is the only event focusing on jazz combos and ensembles, rather than Big Bands, the most popular jazz band in high schools.
The event attracted the best jazz soloists and rhythm sections in small groups, brass bands and ensembles from Lake Stevens and Lincoln high schools, Bellarmine Prep, and Sumner, Gig Harbor and Park Place middle schools.
Chris Thomas, BHS director of bands, said performing in small groups is integral to developing the technical and listening skills and understanding of music theory to perform with others. “It becomes really obvious when you’re in the spotlight, and the same happens in small jazz groups. Kids learn to listen more, and there’s more opportunity for individual expression. It’s a motivator.”
Thomas founded the festival to provide a showcase for smaller ensembles. He was inspired by groups at festivals comprising the best individual musicians and rhythm sections. “Jazz, at its core, is spontaneous and interactive, and the music is the most spontaneous and interactive is small group jazz. Ultimately, if you’re going to play jazz after high school, it will probably be in a small group setting.”
Bands received professional feedback after performances and then attended a master class with Susan Pascal and her quartet. Pascal is a professional vibraphonist who mentored the BHS Jazz9 band students in January for their KNKX ‘School of Jazz’ radio show performance. “What I really love the most is getting one-on-one with individuals. To see them interacting with their peers in the band programs tells you a lot about how much they understand the music and do they understand how to play together,” Pascal said.
Top soloists of the day joined Pascal on stage. “I liked having the kids play with a professional, high-level rhythm section. So, they could feel what it’s like to have that support behind them,” said Pascal, who thought her band members worked well with the students, especially drummer Mark Ivester, teaching the student drummers how to change players in the middle of the set. “Mark would get off the drums, and they would keep the right cymbal going, and the next guy comes on. That kind of personal thing is really fantastic.”
Chris Symer, the quartet bass player who used to participate in music outreach for Los Angeles schools, said, “Music is a non-competitive, cooperative thing to do. And you’re not trying to beat each other. You have to help each other to make it sound good. Where else can you do that?”