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Clark College Jazz Festival more than a competition

Students get to show their skills to the public, interact with other talented musicians

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Published: January 29, 2015, 4:00pm
7 Photos
Rich Inouye, left, director of bands, applauds the College Clark College Jazz Ensemble during their performance at last year's Clark College Jazz Festival.
Rich Inouye, left, director of bands, applauds the College Clark College Jazz Ensemble during their performance at last year's Clark College Jazz Festival. Photo Gallery

• What: 53rd annual Clark College Jazz Festival.

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

• When: Friday, Jan. 30, and Saturday, Jan. 31. 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 8:30 p.m. Friday, and noon Saturday. See schedule for individual school performances.

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

• Information: Visit www.clark.edu/cc/jazzfestival.

Music enthusiasts may love rooting for their favorite middle or high school musicians at the Clark College Jazz Festival, but the event is actually about much more than that.

• What: 53rd annual Clark College Jazz Festival.

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

• When: Friday, Jan. 30, and Saturday, Jan. 31. 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 8:30 p.m. Friday, and noon Saturday. See schedule for individual school performances.

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

&#8226; Information: Visit <a href="http://www.clark.edu/cc/jazzfestival.">www.clark.edu/cc/jazzfestival.</a>

Corey McEnry, director of the Hockinson High School band, which has won the 2A category for the last four years, said the event isn’t really about winning or losing, but about exposing the public to some talented kids, and having the kids rub elbows with other talented musicians.

“Richard Inouye has really done just such a great job with the Jazz Festival and the jazz program at Clark,” McEnry said of the Clark College band director. “Every year, the festival lets our kids see where they came from, where they are, and where they can go as musicians.”

In the event, 60 middle and high school jazz ensembles from Washington and Oregon perform and compete, with prizes for the top three groups in five categories: middle schools and 1A to 4A high schools. The Clark College Jazz Ensemble, which includes participants from past competitions who now attend the college, also performs four shows at the event.

And the list of participating schools keeps growing, said Shelly Williams, program coordinator for the Clark College Music Department.

“The exciting thing is we have a very full set of contenders this year,” Williams said. “We have 12 more schools than last year, and we have a waiting list for next year.”

Most of Clark County’s schools are represented, although a few missed the registration deadline and had to be turned away because the event was full, she said.

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

McEnry said his group has really benefitted from having middle school participation in the event. He said he works with some of the Hockinson Middle School students, who join his group in high school, and on the other side of the equation, Inouye has been very willing to come work with his kids as they prepare for college.

“I’m just lucky out here to have a great supportive district with some really awesome students and a wonderful feeder program,” McEnry said. “And the Clark College Jazz Band, where some of my seniors from last year play, they’re always very supportive. And those kids are always in the audience for our group and other groups.”

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

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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, was strongly involved in the festival before his death in a bicycle accident in Oregon on Aug. 4, 2011.

The festival 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 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 positions after Ramsey left.

McEnry said the event is the one his students look forward to the most each year.

“I think it’s really important,” McEnry said. “It’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, in our area. There are always excellent schools. All the schools cheer for each other. It’s really great for everyone.”

The college also tries to select prestigious, but also kid-friendly, judges for the event and gives participants a chance to work with them afterwords.

“They added that in over the last couple of years, and that’s a very fun portion for all of the kids,” McEnry said.

This year’s judges are Rick White, a classically trained composer and jazz bassist; Dave Hagelganz, a saxophonist, performer and music instructor at Washington State University; Pete Boule, a multi-woodwind instrumentalist, performer and public school music teacher for 37 years; and Glenn Kostur, a composer and saxophonist who performs frequently in the Albuquerque/Santa Fe, N.M., area.

Williams said jazz fans are welcome to come on any day, but the biggest bang for your buck is probably the Saturday evening performances.

“If you are a jazz aficionado and you know and like it, definitely the Saturday show is one to knock your socks off,” Williams said. “The intensity level is really high. But if you’re a person that wants to get your feet wet and see what’s out there, or if you have a young musician in the family that’s interested in this, then the other days are great, too.”

She added that she’s thrilled to see all the support for jazz in Clark County and throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s kind of impressive that there’s still a strong spot for jazz,” Williams said. “It’s unique to American music. We’re very fortunate that the schools still believe in it and continue to teach it. There’s this saying I remember: ‘If you give a child a paint brush in one hand, then they won’t have a weapon in the other’ and I think music is like that, too.”

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