The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 7, 2014

Hundreds of Four-State Area students turn out to mark 40th PSU Jazz Festival

PITTSBURG, Kan. — What began as an event with 13 high school bands has grown into what organizers believe to be the biggest event of its kind in the Midwest, drawing not just students, but internationally known professional musicians.

On Friday, 66 area high school bands participated in the 40th Annual Pittsburg State University Jazz Festival, which celebrates a style of music considered to be the only original American art form.

“I don’t know where the festival idea came from, truthfully, but it grew little by little and now here we are,” said the event’s founder, Russell Jones, chairman of the music department, as Joplin High School prepared to take the stage in McCray Hall.

“The idea behind it is to not only be useful to our group of university jazz musicians,” he said, “but to expose other bands in the area to good adjudicators to try to improve the quality of all of our area programs.”

The festival has grown so much that it became necessary for organizers to spread the daytime performance venues to four sites: McCray Hall, Overman Student Center, and both upstairs and downstairs at Pittsburg’s Memorial Auditorium downtown.

Beginning at 8 a.m. and continuing throughout the day, bands performed for a panel of experienced educators and performers. The clinicians then worked with each group at the end of their performances and gave each a rating.

New Joplin High School band director Chris Mudd brought a 15-member jazz ensemble that performed “Come Out Swinging,” by Ken Harris; “Early Afternoon Blues” by Chick Corea; and “Panic Button” by Larry Barton.

“Comments from clinicians who also are musicians themselves are worth gold,” Mudd said. “To have that from adjudicators who make their living off of playing jazz is excellent.”

The Joplin group earned a superior rating and drew praise for its musicality and solos by junior Ryan Hockett, baritone saxophone player; sophomore Collyn Marsh, trombonist; junior Travis Turner, trombonist; junior Severin Eldred, bassist; and sophomore Jason Madden, trumpeter.

“I’m thinking of going into music education and appreciated getting to hear from judges,” Turner said. “They talked to us about playing out, working on our articulation and working as a group.”

Baxter Springs High School band director Louis Morgan said he remembers playing in the festival as a university student at PSU; on Friday, he brought his 16-member jazz band.

“It’s a great event; they always bring in top-notch clinicians to help the students and always provide a great concert at the end of the day,” Morgan said.

It was an opportunity for his students to also hear numerous other high school bands play throughout the day.

“They can hear how other kids their age are playing, learn things to do and not to do, and get inspired,” Morgan said.

Diamond High School senior Caitlin James, a trombonist, plans to major in music in college and has performed at the festival with her school’s jazz band since she was a freshman.

“It’s nice to be able to hear bands and what they’re doing, and to get advice to help us improve,” James said. “We learned some tips about volume control and technique today.”

Hannah Burdick, a senior baritone saxophone player from Diamond who performed a vocal solo, said her band had worked for a few months preparing, and she was “very happy” with their performance.

In recent decades, the festival has been directed by Bob Kehle, a member of the faculty of the PSU Department of Music who also directs and plays in jazz ensembles. Kehle said that in addition to the bands and clinicians, the event has brought to Pittsburg numerous notable musicians.

“The festival has brought in such jazz educators and groups as Louis Bellson, Maynard Ferguson and His Big Bop Nouveau, the U.S. Air Force Airmen of Note, the Count Basie Band, the Roy Hargrove Quartet, Jon Faddis with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and the Steve Turre Quartet,” Kehle said. “It is rare for students growing up in the middle of the U.S. to have an opportunity to hear and learn from some of these legendary jazz figures.”

An indirect consequence, Jones noted, is that it brings hundreds of students from the Four-State Area to campus and could therefore be considered a recruiting tool.

This year, the festival drew bands from schools in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Participants ranged from large schools in Kansas City, Springfield, Tulsa, Okla., and Wichita, Kan., to smaller districts closer to home, including Seneca, Diamond, Riverton and St. Paul.

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