Students get jazzed up at annual festival
Grammy-nominated saxophonist Brad Leali was the featured guest artist as the Moores School of Music Jazz Orchestra commanded the stage, receiving praise throughout their shared performance at the annual jazz festival.
The 16th annual Moores School of Music Jazz Festival brought numerous musicians to showcase their talents at the Moores Opera House on Friday and Saturday.
Throughout the night, Leali pumped up the orchestra with a snap of his fingers and a tap in his toes. Together, they lost themselves in the soulful energy of the music.
After each song, Leali worked the crowd, encouraging it to direct its applause not at himself but at the orchestra, visiting students, directors, families and friends, who showed their support for loved ones performing at the festival.
About 22 high-school and middle-school bands from across the state came together to participate in the annual festival, and it offered young students the chance to receive critiques and attend clinics by professional judges and musicians.
This year, the educational components expanded to provide students with the opportunity for two personalized clinics, compared to previous years, in which bands received only one clinic each.
But the visiting middle-school and high-school students weren’t the only ones participating in the clinics this weekend. As a part of the festival’s tradition, each day at noon, the University ensemble and orchestra rehearsed songs for the evening performances in front of a public audience.
Graduate student and jazz orchestra drummer Daniel Webbon said many people don’t realize that these public clinics are only the second opportunity the band has had to play with the guest artist — a challenge that, for them, is standard.
“It’s always nerve-wracking having a guest artist come. They’ve never worked with your band, so they don’t know what to expect, and you don’t know what to expect,” Webbon said. “You want to be on your A-game, but at the same time, they might want something different than what you’ve done. Even if you’ve played it well, they just want to coordinate the sound. You have to be flexible, and that’s a little nerve-wracking, knowing that you are going to have to change a bunch of stuff that you already rehearsed.”
Friday night marked the first night that the University jazz ensemble was invited to perform. Opening up for faculty member Woody Whitt and his band, the less-experienced group showcased how far it has come.
“Normally the ensemble would play during the day, getting adjudicated alongside the high-school and middle-school bands,” said doctoral candidate Henry Darragh. “This year, they get to perform on the big night.”
The following night, the jazz orchestra closed out the festival with Leali. The students and Leali took turns performing solos, showcasing their skills, and at one point, director Noe Marmolejo pulled out his trumpet to join them.
It was evident that Marmolejo, who refers to the festival as his “brain-child,” was proud.
“Every one of these artists has brought a real honest energy and awareness of what the purpose of their presence can bring,” Marmolejo said. “Every guy up here has been a mentor to my students, which is a primary reason for doing this. All these guys are professionals in their own right, and it’s another voice from the outside world. I think it’s great.”
The night ended with a song written by Leali that was dedicated to his grandfather, a preacher who heavily influenced him. Leali belted his heart out toward the end, and the crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Marmolejo said he’ll be starting plans to do it all again next year.
As he scanned his office, he admired the posters of years past that fill his walls: pictures of famous jazz artists, from Bill Evans to Joe Henderson, all of whom have participated in the Moores School of Music Jazz Festival.
“I know from correspondence from students from the past, I will always get calls every year all the time about that time when blank-blank played with us,” Marmolejo said. “For my students, what they get is priceless — they get to share a stage with a great musician. We’ve been very fortunate to have the support of the Moores School of Music to do this.”