Get your groove on

Get your groove on

Beavercreek High School hosts 13th Weekend of Jazz

By Kevin J. Gray
Photo: The Ramsey Lewis  Quintet will headline Saturday evening, March 2, at Beavercreek High School’s 13th Annual Weekend of Jazz

In 2001, Doug McCullough, the Director of Bands at Beavercreek High School, had a goal. McCullough’s goal was two-fold. He wanted to increase awareness of the Beavercreek jazz ensembles, while at the same time providing a unique learning experience for his students and the community at large. From this goal, the first Beavercreek Weekend of Jazz took shape.

The Weekend of Jazz is still running strong, 13 years later, thanks to McCullough’s efforts, as well as those of event director Jeff Weir, event promoter Dan Archibald and scores of other school and community volunteers. The event, held annually the first weekend in March and organized and presented by the Beavercreek Music Parents Association, continues to expose students and the community to new and exciting forms of jazz. It also provides participating students with opportunities to learn about the world of jazz, including careers in music, directly from professional jazz musicians.

Weekend of Jazz blends performances from professional and aspiring musicians. Beavercreek students, as well as those from schools in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, have a chance to show off their stuff. Each year, the event also draws two marquee ensembles to headline Friday and Saturday nights. These groups are always world-class. Previous headliners have included The Woody Herman Orchestra, Spyro Gyra, Maynard Ferguson and his Big Bop Nouveau Band, The Stanley Clarke Band, Tito Puente, Jr. and His Orchestra, The Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Buddy Rich Big Band. This year, Jeff Coffin and the Mu’Tet return for their second year on Friday night and pianist Ramsey Lewis and his Electric Band headline Saturday’s bill.

The event kicks off on Thursday, Feb. 28. The first performance features the Beavercreek jazz ensembles from Ankeney and Ferguson middle schools and the Jazz I and Jazz II ensembles from Beavercreek High School. Thursday’s concert is free and open to the public. What makes this performance special – and indicative of the culture of learning that pervades the weekend – is that one of the professional musicians, Jeff Coffin, will be providing feedback to the young players after each set. This interaction takes place on stage, so that parents and the community can also listen in on the master class.

Saturday day also features student performances. There are generally 18-20 bands participating in Saturday’s event. These middle school, high school and college jazz bands come from the surrounding communities for a chance to exhibit their talent. While there is some informal competition among the student bands, the emphasis is always on music instruction and learning. After each Saturday performance, a panel of professional jazz musicians and music educators critique the concert. The student bands also have the opportunity to attend clinics for one-on-one advice from one of the panel members. Through these sessions, the students have a chance to interact with the musicians, learning not only about the mechanics of the music, but also about careers in the field. In fact, several years ago, one of the professional groups, the all-female group Five Play approached one of the Beavercreek High School saxophone players about potential future work. They were so impressed with her playing that they asked her to send them her resume once she had graduated high school.

The Friday and Saturday night headlining acts provide a rare opportunity to see high caliber musicianship in an intimate setting – the auditorium holds about 800 people. In addition, the festival tickets for the evening shows are very reasonable – $30 for adults and $20 for seniors and students.

The headlining bands offer two distinct takes on contemporary jazz. Jeff Coffin and the Mu’tet is led by Jeff Coffin, who many may know as the saxophonist from the Dave Matthews Band and from Bela Fleck & the Flecktones. Playing cutting-edge compositions, The Mu’tet takes its name from the word “mutation,” signifying the growth and adaptation of jazz music. The band features an all-star cast, including Felix Pastorius on bass (son of bass legend Jaco Pastorius), Bill Fanning on trumpet, Chris Walters on keys and five-time Grammy winner Roy “Futureman” Wooten on drums. The group’s music draws from myriad sources, including African, New Orleans, Indian, funk, jazz, folk, Gypsy, rock, fusion, Brazilian and other styles of music. A non-traditionalist, Coffin is known to use guitar effects on his sax, which he calls “electro-sax.” He also sometimes plays two saxophones at once.

Ramsey Lewis is a jazz piano icon. The keyboardist, who recorded his first album in Chicago in 1956, has since released more than 80 albums and has received three Grammys. During his long career, the musician has collaborated with artists such as Earth, Wind, & Fire, Grover Washington, Jr. and Nancy Wilson. While Lewis played in an acoustic trio for much of the last 15 years, his latest album has seen a return to his electric roots. His most recent album featured Henry Johnson on guitar, Michael Logan on keys, Joshua Ramos on bass and Charles Heath on drums.

The Beavercreek High School Weekend of Jazz takes place Thursday, Feb. 28 through Saturday, March 2 at Beavercreek High School, 2660 Dayton-Xenia Road. The Thursday and Saturday day shows are free, while tickets for the Friday and Saturday night concerts are $30 for adults and $20 for seniors and students. For more information, go to WeekendOfJazz.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@daytoncitypaper.com

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