Students get jazzy at Northern Arizona University Jazz Festival

Grand Canyon School Jazz Band receives excellence rating and plaque at Northern Arizona University Jazz Festival, Feb. 26

Grand Canyon School Jazz Band at the Northern Arizona University Jazz Festival, Feb. 26. Loretta Yerian/WGCN

Grand Canyon School Jazz Band at the Northern Arizona University Jazz Festival, Feb. 26. Loretta Yerian/WGCN

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. -The Grand Canyon School Jazz Band practiced and perfected several songs over the last several months - songs they performed at the 53rd annual Northern Arizona University (NAU) Jazz Festival on Feb. 26.

Each year the NAU Jazz Festival opens its doors for three days to high schools - offering clinics and featuring guest performers for inspiration. This year internationally acclaimed trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who is currently touring the United States and Europe promoting his latest album, performed at the festival.

On the first day of the festival, Grand Canyon School was the second group to perform. According to Grand Canyon School band director Bently Monk it was an ideal time to play, since there were around 60 schools performing over the course of three days.

"Because of transportation issues, we always take the Thursday spot," Monk said. "There are twenty schools competing today, twenty schools competing on Friday and twenty schools competing on Saturday. We take one of the first spots, which could benefit us since they (judges) haven't been listening to others play all day."

The jazz festival is a state competition that falls under the Arizona music educators association's rules and guidelines for bands. According to Monk, the band had the option to go to the jazz festival or a regular concert band festival. They chose the festival because of its closer proximity to Grand Canyon School.

"We do the jazz festival because it's closer and a little more accessible for the kids," Monk said.

To kick off their session the band performed "Jazzberry Jam," a familiar piece they played at the school's holiday concert.

"We revamped it ("Jazzberry Jam") and turned it into a New Orleans second line - New Orleans second line is a traditional thing that happens after a funeral," Monk said. "The people hit the streets and they walk and play and have a good time and celebrate people's lives instead of celebrating death."

The band followed "Jazzberry Jam" with a slower piece "Walnut Creek" and ended with the swing piece "See if I Don't." The band featured solo acts by Valeria Romero on the clarinet, Savannah Perkins on the trumpet, Kyla Pearce on the alto saxophone, Ellie Perkins with a piano solo and Ashlee Sanderson on the clarinet. 

"They'll be in contest today, not just going for comments and then the judges will rate, judge them and give them comments," Monk said before the performance last Thursday.

Judges for the festival are professional jazz musicians from around the U.S. and after the band received its rating, a judges met in a clinic room with the band to offer suggestions and help students develop their skills.

According to Monk students are required to meet certain standards for the division they perform. The competition is open to all schools and offers students the chance to advance to the next level of performance, including jazz festivals around the U.S.

"This could be a good stepping ground because there are jazz festivals all over the country that you have to have placed in a festival beforehand, had it recorded, turned it in and then go someplace else in the country to perform," Monk said.

This year the band received two two ratings and one one rating. According to Monk band festival ratings are like golf, with a lower score being better.

"The kids did really great," he said.

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