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Going with the flow at Clark College Jazz Festival

High-energy musicians go off the page with improvisation, chemistry

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: January 31, 2015, 4:00pm
4 Photos
James Powers plays a trombone solo for the Clark College Jazz Ensemble at the college's annual jazz festival on Saturday.
James Powers plays a trombone solo for the Clark College Jazz Ensemble at the college's annual jazz festival on Saturday. Photo Gallery

As the Clark College Jazz Ensemble played Saturday afternoon to a full house, the rapt audience was quiet except for occasionally murmuring “Wow” or “Smooth.” For their final number, the ensemble played “Slauson East,” a big, bluesy number that really popped and got the audience whooping at every riff.

It’s just a taste of what the 53rd annual Clark College Jazz Festival offered on Saturday, the event’s most popular day to watch performances. People filled Gaiser Hall, lining the walls of the room to watch the bands.

Members of the college’s ensemble are graduates of area high schools. So, for the high school and middle school ensembles, it gives students an idea of where they could go with their skills, according to Richard Inouye, director of both the festival and the college ensemble.

At a two-year community college, there’s a lot of turnover. When new students join the jazz band each year, Inouye tries to find music that jibes with the students and their charisma, rather than the other way around.

“This year, we just have a chemistry in the band,” he said. “I think it’s important that they really enjoy each other.”

A lot of jazz is based on improvisation, so half of the time you’re playing, you’re not looking at the sheet music, said freshman Walter Hansen, who played piano and vibes.

“It’s more of a feeling than set stuff,” he said. “You take someone else’s foundation and ideas and expand upon them.”

While they played “I Only Have Eyes for You,” a cymbal fell off Micah Ritchie’s drum set. But the band just went with it. The cymbal kind of fell in time, anyway, Hansen said. Every time the ensemble practiced that song before their Saturday performance, it sounded different. They constantly mixed it up with improvised riffs.

The group is high-energy. At times, Hansen said, they get distracted and don’t listen to Inouye like students sometimes do, but their musical chemistry is strong.

“You can have the greatest musicians in the world, but if they don’t get along, it won’t sound good,” said Brendon Broer, third trumpet.

The Clark College Jazz Ensemble is seen as the lead entertainment at the festival, which concluded Saturday. Meanwhile, the high school and middle school groups not only perform, they get coached by veteran jazz instructors.

“When we land at the top of that arpeggio, articulate it,” Glenn Kostur, a professional saxophonist, told the Evergreen High School jazz band. He took some time after their onstage work to offer some instruction for improving their delivery. Kostur, director of jazz studies at the University of New Mexico, was one of four adjudicators who took turn judging and mentoring the bands.

“What makes people want to dance is whenever we as musicians are all hooked together,” Kostur said.

The educational part was added to the festival in the last couple of years.