Jazz Fest connects students with jazz pros

Sara Groppe, A&E Editor

Jazz fans flocked to Hammerschmidt Chapel for the 50th anniversary of the Elmhurst College Jazz Festival on Feb. 23-26. 

Grammy-award winning jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater sings with EC’s Jazz Band during the Gala Opening Con- cert for Jazz Fest on Thursday, Feb. 23. Photo by Stefan Carlson

Over the course of this four-day event, jazz greats like Grammy Award-winning singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, bassist Rufus Reid and Bill Holman and his big band delighted the audience with their performances. 

“[The judge’s jam session] reminded me of why I like jazz in the first place,” said Ken Eernisse, a senior from California State University, Long Beach’s jazz band, one of the college bands featured in the festival. “They were just calling out a tune, not relying on luscious arrangements. They had such soulful solos.” 

Ernesse was one of the hundreds of college and high school students who came from all over the country to participate in this year’s Jazz Fest. This is largely due to the fact that the Jazz Festival is non-competitive, focusing instead on jazz education. 

“It’s good for students to do intercollegiate festivals [like the Jazz Fest] because it gives colleges the opportunity to interact with other organizations,” said Bridgewater. “It’s all about celebrating music and interacting with each other. It’s nice to share musical ideas with your peers.”

Bridgewater speaks from experience, for she performed at the Jazz Festival in 1968 as the vocalist for the University of Illinois’ big band. Her experiences with that group eventually led her to fulfill her dream of becoming a Jazz musician respected by the world. 

Jeff Jarvis, the director of the California State University, Long Beach’s band agrees with Bridgewater on the importance of experiences like the Jazz Fest for young jazz musicians. He especially values the opportunities his students have to hear and work with great jazz educators (adjudicators) at Jazz Fest. 

“Finding good adjudicators is difficult,” he said. “Some people can’t talk to younger people. If a student hears comments from an adjudicator that rubs him the wrong way, that could be the end of his career. Every one of [the Jazz Fest adjudicators] is a great adjudicator.” 

Janis Stockhouse, the the director of Bloomington North High School’s jazz band took her students on a four-hour bus drive from Indiana to EC because she knew the experience would be beneficial for them. 

“Denis DiBlasio worked with the students and got the saxophone section to sound meatier,” she said. 

The students themselves appreciate these experiences as much as — if not more than — their directors do. 

“I’m really excited to see the Vanguard Orchestra,” said Tom Hughes, a junior from California State University, Long Beach. “I’ve looked up to [their drummer] since I started drumming. I worked through his lesson books. To hear him play is priceless.” 

The professionals enjoy working with the students as well, an opinion Bridgewater voiced at the end of her concert with the Jazz Band. 

“These young people are the reason I come back here,” she said.