All that jazz at Clark College

Annual music festival showcases middle, high school bands from county, around Northwest

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



If you go

What: 52nd annual Clark College Jazz Festival.

Where: Clark College, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way. Gaiser Hall is on the northwest corner of the main campus between McLoughlin and Fourth Plain boulevards.

When: Friday, Jan. 31, and Saturday, Feb. 1. Jazz ensembles from 1A to 2A schools perform Friday and 3A to 4A school jazz ensembles perform Saturday. Preliminary competitions start at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m., with the evening finals competitions beginning at 7 p.m. The Clark College Jazz Ensemble performs at noon and 9 p.m. Friday, and noon Saturday. See schedule for individual school performances.

Cost: $5 per day. Free for Clark College students and children under 12 accompanied by an adult.

Information: Visit

The Clark College Jazz Festival isn’t just a simple competition between middle and high school bands.

The 52-year-old show also presents a chance to see up and coming young jazz and rock musicians from across the Pacific Northwest — and its draw gets bigger each year, said Richard Inouye, the college’s band director and organizer of the event.

“Bands come from Seattle, Portland and across the region to participate alongside local bands from Vancouver and Clark County,” Inouye said. “This year our area has more participants in the 1A and 2A divisions, but there are three local high schools — Union, Mountain View and Battle Ground — that are participating in the 3A and 4A divisions.”

About 1,200 student musicians will play a wide variety of musical genres, including jazz, salsa and rock, all played in big band style.

Sam Ormson, band director at Mountain View High School, said he’s always impressed by the variety of talented students in the event.

“I think it’s really one of the best jazz festivals on the West Coast,” Ormson said. “To have that opportunity in our own backyard is a huge treat.”

Middle school teams held their competition Thursday. Division 1A and 2A schools will compete today. And division 3A and 4A schools will compete Saturday. Last year’s winner, Roosevelt High School Jazz I from Seattle, will perform a special show Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

After the finalists in each division are selected, a winner of the Dale Beacock Memorial Sweepstakes Award will be chosen as the overall competition winner. That band will play a special show at next year’s festival.

Beacock, former band director at the college and founder of Beacock Music, remained strongly involved in the festival until he was killed in a bicycle accident in Oregon on Aug. 4, 2011.

The event was founded in 1962 by Hudson’s Bay High School band director Don Cammack. It started as a one-day invitational jazz competition for schools in Clark and Skamania counties. Shows alternated between Fort Vancouver and Evergreen high schools before Beacock expanded it to two days and included school jazz bands from greater Portland and all of Washington.

Beacock brought the festival to Clark College in 1970, and by that time it had grown to include 17 high school jazz bands.

In 1971, 32 bands participated. In 1976, the festival had grown to 52 bands, and today it includes about 60 jazz groups.

Chuck Ramsey followed Beacock’s tenure as the Clark College band director and organizer of the event from 1985-2007. And Inouye took over the band director and festival organizer position after Ramsey left.

“We changed the name of our award in honor of Beacock because he contributed so much to the festival,” Inouye said.

He added that he’d like to see more local 3A and 4A high schools compete in the event in coming years.

“I wish we could get more participating,” Inouye said. “I’m not sure why they don’t.”

All three local schools in the top division have a decent chance at the big prize, which includes a trophy, he said.

Mountain View won it in 2012, but before that the last local school to win was Prairie High School in 1992.

“It’s really disappointing how few of the local schools enter at that level,” Inouye said. “I hope I can get more involved in it. All they have to do is register.”

Still, those that come — participants and local jazz enthusiasts — should be in for a great time, Ormson said.

“I love it, and I think it means a ton to all of these kids,” Ormson said. “So often we think of high school rivalries, but with this kind of music, the kids have so much in common. They get up early to practice, they spend a great deal of time and effort. There’s a great camaraderie and understanding of one another. They all cheer each other on.”