More than 60 middle and high schools will compete at the 53rd annual Jazz Festival on Jan. 29-31 in Gaiser Hall.
Music Program Coordinator Shelly Williams said most of the schools are local, including Battleground, Union and Hockinson. There will also be schools from Seattle, Tri-Cities, Spokane and Salem.
Clark will be the school of choice for many of the local competing jazz students after they finish high school, Williams said. “It’s kinda fun that it’s not just those other schools, and those other people; it’s us! It’s local kids.”
Every school gets a certificate of participation and the top three finalists receive trophies, Williams said. The first place school will earn the coveted sweepstakes trophy.
Clark Music Professor Richard Inouye has been in charge of directing the festival since 2008.
“He was a very fine jazz musician and leader for 20 years in the U.S. Air Force Jazz Band, so he knows a lot of folk internationally and nationally,” Williams said.
“In the last couple years since I’ve taken it over, I think that attendance, the quality, the level of schools we’re getting keeps increasing,” Inouye said. “They keep getting better and better.”
This is partly thanks to the clinics that are offered for each ensemble. After an ensemble performs, they go to another room and get a lesson from one of the judges, who are “critically-acclaimed jazz artists from around the country” according to Inouye.
Improvisation is what sets jazz apart from other genres, Inouye said. “It’s basically getting up, and creating a melody, creating a composition on your own, on the spot.”
The Clark jazz ensemble will perform four times throughout the festival, according to Inouye. In addition, about 100-150 Clark students will assist with the festival, whether that be planning, guiding the students, setting up or managing the stage, Williams said.
Clark music student Anna James will oversee the registration table and play the treble saxaphone as part of the Clark jazz ensemble. She competed in the Clark jazz festival during her middle and high school years as a student at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics.
“I’ve seen the Clark band, and I was like, ‘Wow, they’re so good, they’re so amazing, I would love to be a part of that,’” James said.
Out of all the other community college festivals she competed in, “Clark was probably the most personal,” she said. “I ended up getting to know the staff in the music department.”
“It didn’t matter if we won,” James said. “We just came for the experience, because it’s so good to be able to see how other people are doing and see how you can make yourself better.”
Current VSAA senior Andy Zacek said he has competed with his school’s band at the Clark jazz festival for the last four or five years.
“What makes the Clark festival different from other festivals I’ve been to is a different atmosphere,” Zacek said. “You get an impression that people are really having fun, and that the educators really care about sharing great jazz students.”