All that jazz

Jazz

Ellis Marsalis and Sherrie Maricle headline Beavercreek’s Weekend of Jazz

By Gary Spencer

Photo:Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra co-headline the 17th annual Weekend of Jazz Festival March 2-4; photo: Shaun Mader

Jazz is one of America’s biggest and most important contributions to modern culture. Born of southern African-American culture in the late 19th century, the genre has grown and evolved over the course of the 100-plus years of its existence, often waxing and waning, both in terms of popularity and artistry, numerous times over.

One thing that’s remained constant is that only the most practiced and skilled players have been able to sustain the genre and become stars, with the more seasoned veterans helping discover, teach, and encourage the next generation of jazz musicians, who, in many instances, later become stars themselves. These features of discovery and tutelage are at the core of the 17th annual Beavercreek Music Parents Weekend of Jazz Festival kicking off this Thursday, March 2, with contemporary jazz greats Ellis Marsalis and Sherrie Maricle in concert on Friday and Saturday.

Since its creation in 2001, the Weekend of Jazz (WOJ) Festival has been a labor of love for the Beavercreek Music Parents Association (BMPA) and everyone else involved.

“The BMPA is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to support various activities of the Beavercreek High School Music Department by providing parental support to many events such as WOJ,” says Tim Sakulich, Weekend of Jazz director. “Weekend of Jazz operates entirely with volunteers from the Beavercreek community, organized through the BMPA. These volunteers not only help with the execution of the festival, but are integrally involved in all aspects of planning and organizing the festival.”

According to Sakulich, the Weekend of Jazz is a perfect example of the BMPA’s key objectives.

“We say WOJ is ‘where the future of jazz meets the legends of jazz.’ The program’s primary objective is to expose the youth of Beavercreek, Ohio, and surrounding communities to new and exciting forms of jazz music and provide them opportunities to learn about careers in music directly from professional jazz musicians,”  Sakulich says.

This year, 32 different youth ensembles and their individual performers from Miami Valley area schools will have the opportunity to be heard, instructed, and critiqued by both local and national professional musicians, in an effort to enhance the next generation of potential jazz stars. WOJ begins with the Beavercreek Schools Jazz Band Night on the first night of the festival and continues with master classes on Saturday.

The Weekend of Jazz not only enables students to gain advice from pros, but it’s also the opportunity for them to learn from neighboring musician peers.

Each ensemble performs three numbers for the judges. Additionally, in the master classes, professional musicians, sometimes including headline artists, offer feedback and ways to improve their performance.

“These are special opportunities for students to not only learn playing techniques from the pros, but also to learn more about how the professionals approach the art form from practice to performance,” Sakulich points out. “The artists that do these classes love passing their passion onto the next generation, so these classes are always a huge hit with students, parents, and band directors.”

In the past, the Weekend of Jazz has hosted renowned international artists such as the Buddy Rich Big Band, the Jon Faddis Quartet, Royal Crown Revue, Spryo Gyra, Maynard Ferguson, Stanley Clarke, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears. The 2017 edition of the festival welcomes legendary National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master pianist Ellis Marsalis and his quintet in performance on Friday night, as well as decorated percussionist Sherrie Maricle and her all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra in concert on Saturday. According to Sakulich, the festival’s growing reputation for enthusiastic budding musicians, along with audiences in general, has made it easy for WOJ to welcome such internationally acclaimed artists to the Miami Valley.

“I can tell you that every headline artist we’ve invited has raved about the receptive audience and great hospitality they encounter at our festival,” he says. “That’s all a winning combination to attract top tier artists and legends like Ellis Marsalis.”

The ongoing success of the Weekend of Jazz is a testimony, not just to the initiatives of the BMPA but to the seemingly under-the-radar appeal of jazz in general.

As Sakulich explains, “I think it’s growing. Look at some of today’s hottest artists—Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Bublé are good examples—and you see great music sales.”

One of the beautiful things about jazz is that the art form is constantly being refreshed and reinvented, where traditional standards and contemporary pop melodies and rhythms can be fused into something fresh, original, and engaging.”

According to Sakulich, anyone who experiences WOJ firsthand sees an audience that represents a wide cross-section of ages. He has observed that the youngest members of the audience are the ones who seem to get into the music the most. “It’s a wonderful thing to see the artists click with audiences,” he says. “The constant theme [while] watching people exit the concert is the huge smiles you see on folks’ faces and excited chatter about what they just experienced—oh, and a lot of social media action afterwards. If that’s not a testament to how WOJ is helping to keep jazz alive for the next generation in the Miami Valley, I don’t know what would be.”

The Weekend of Jazz takes place Thursday-Saturday, March 2-4 at Beavercreek High School’s Alumni Auditorium, 2660 Dayton-Xenia Rd. in Beavercreek. Tickets for headlining concerts are $30 for adults, $20 for students and seniors; other events are free. For more information, please visit WeekendOfJazz.org. 

 

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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