Jazz music flooded Gaiser Hall Jan. 25-27 as middle school and high school bands from all over the Pacific Northwest performed at Clark College’s 56th annual Jazz Festival.
Band Director Rich Inouye, who directed the festival for the last 11 years, said it showcases 1,200 students and attracts 3,000 to 4,000 audience members to Clark each year. He said jazz education is the most important part of the festival because it cultivates a sense of community for music students of all ages.
“Not only is it a nice showcase for the college, but it’s an important tradition,” he said.
The three-day competition is separated into divisions: Thursday is middle-school, while Friday and Saturday offer four levels of high-school.
At the end of each day, judges rank the bands from best to worst. Inouye said the competitive element creates energy, and the audience enjoys seeing the rankings at the end of the festival.
He said Clark’s Concert and Jazz Band students run the festival, learning administrative and coordination skills in the process.
“It’s a learning they can’t get from the classroom and gives the band students an opportunity to have ownership and show off the college to people who wouldn’t normally come to Clark,” Inouye said.
He said Clark’s Jazz Band performs four times during the course of the festival, promoting the band to younger students and the community.
During the 50th festival six years ago, Inouye said he realized three generations of students performed on the stage in Gaiser Hall. “We had grandparents listening to their grandkids where both had participated in the festival at some time,” he said.
Inouye said the festival motivates younger students to move on to their high school bands, and eventually Clark’s.
Dennis Baciuc, a second-year trumpet player involved with all Clark’s ensembles, previously played for Hockinson High School where he won awards and was a featured soloist.
Now, Baciuc registers, informs and ushers bands from the warm-up room to the stage. Baciuc said all band students help run the festival and usually get support from alumni.
“We’re all best friends,” Baciuc said. “Because it’s a smaller program, we get a chance to know everyone personally.”
Baciuc said managing rowdy middle school and high school students is challenging, but overall the festival is rewarding.
He said there’s a performance standard to inspire students and the audience that Clark’s jazz program must uphold. “A big part of why people come to join the Clark band is hearing them in the community or at the festival.”
Baciuc said he remembers attending the festival in high school and being motivated to practice more.
“I like the idea of so many musicians coming together and performing music and the community that forms between the bands,” he said.
Third-year Clark student Owen Lantz performed and competed in the festival as a member of Chief Umtuch Middle School and Battle Ground High School. He said he always enjoyed listening to the Clark band when he was younger, and the festival encourages him to be better each year.
“I’ve never been part of a more supportive team,” Lantz said. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been here for eight years or one quarter, everyone helps each other out and we are able to create great things because of that.”
Lantz said Clark band students enjoy listening to the schools that they graduated from, though his favorite part of the festival is the audience.
“Family and community members come to listen to us, it’s always a lively and supportive crowd to play for,” Lantz said.
Both Baciuc and Lantz said they hope the festival will expand beyond the Pacific Northwest in the following years.
Music Program Coordinator Shelly Williams, who handles coordination, marketing, contract managing, public relations and assigning student leaders, said this year Petersburg High School became the first band from Alaska to compete in the festival.
She said groups from retirement facilities and the child care center on campus attend the festival annually to enjoy a more active environment and style of music.
“The festival helps promote jazz, which is a uniquely American tradition that we own and need to keep alive,” Williams said.