February is always a big month for young jazz musicians in America. That’s when the annual Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival is held at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho.
This year, the South Whidbey High School Jazz Ensemble repeated the fine performances of ensembles of yesteryears, and came home with first place again in their Division A category under the leadership of director Chris Harshman.
Additionally, senior Sidney Hauser won first place in the alto saxophone soloist category for her performance of “When Sunny Gets Blue,” while sophomore Jack Hood garnered an honorable mention for his solo jazz piano rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.”
“I was really surprised when I found out about my honorable mention, but it wasn’t really a big deal,” Hood said modestly.
“What really stood out to me was the fun, musical atmosphere and the positive attitude of the judges and of everyone there,” he added.
Hauser agreed about all the fun, but said the standards were high, as always, and it gave her the boost she needed to rise to level of her peers.
“Lionel Hampton was definitely a rewarding and enlightening experience,” Hauser said.
“No matter how good you think you are, there are always people one step ahead of you … or more. Lionel Hampton is so unique, because you become exposed to a whole spectrum of players, from mediocre to prodigy, yet you all have one thing in common — a love for music.”
Indeed, for more than 40 years the festival has brought together master musicians with hundreds of elementary, junior high, high school and college students from all over the United States and Canada for a four-day event of workshops, concerts and competitions.
Harshman gave a day-by-day account and said, after stopping off for a workshop with Chris Bruya, director of jazz studies at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, both the middle school band (led by Jessica Foley) and the high school musicians learned Bruya’s most important tip for performance: commit. Don’t just go through the motions, he told them. Make it personal and commit all the way.
Taking that advice to heart, students attended a dress rehearsal in Idaho on Friday followed by a workshop and an inspiring concert by festival guests, the Blind Boys of Alabama. By Saturday, both bands were ready to play their best.
Harshman had full confidence in his high school band, even though he said the set was very challenging.
“As seems to be the style of this year’s band, I just start them up and walk away without directing. They like it that way,” he said.
“Twenty minutes later, we release the final note and make a bee-line off the stage. We had no idea what the judges thought. However the general feeling was that we performed well,” he added.
Foley said the Langley Middle School band performed equally, as well and both directors were as pleased as punch with the dedication of the students.
Hood said every person in the band sounded great at the festival, hence the first place win.
“We just had a really good day and came out on top,” Hood said.
“Each individual rose to the expectations, making the ensemble as a whole sound really good.”
He also said he owed a debt of gratitude particularly to bassist Sylvie Kaul-Anderson and drummer Connor McCauley.
“They did an amazing job accompanying all the ensembles and soloists throughout the day, while lugging heavy equipment around,” Hood said.
Perhaps Hauser had the final, most thrilling moment of her colleagues at the festival when she was invited to perform at the solo winner’s venue, Hamp’s Club, with fellow winning performers.
“I was standing up there with jazz cats from Garfield, Roosevelt, Semiahmoo and Wenatchee. We had to play three standard jazz tunes like ‘Oleo’ and ‘The Wave.’ Boy these kids were tearin’ it up,” she said.
“When I was on the big stage, all the weaknesses that I’ve ever tried to avoid in my playing gave me a good smack on the nose,” Hauser confessed.
“It sure humbled me. But when things like that happen to you, you just shake the dust, learn from your mistakes, move on and put some ointment on that battle wound.”
To see more about the festival and its results visit www.uidaho.edu/jazzfest.