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March 20, 2023

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Annual Clark College Jazz Festival welcomes clinicians, school bands

By , Columbian staff writer
3 Photos
Doug Harris, music instructor and director of Clark College's annual jazz festival, conducts last year's Clark College Jazz Ensemble.
Doug Harris, music instructor and director of Clark College's annual jazz festival, conducts last year's Clark College Jazz Ensemble. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

It looked a bit iffy earlier this month, but last week’s approval of a new faculty contract means the 58th annual Clark College Jazz Festival will go forth and swing.

The festival features three full days of big band jazz played by 60 middle and high school ensembles (Class 1A to 4A) from Washington and Oregon. Top ensembles and outstanding players receive awards at the end of each division’s preliminary competition. The Dale Beacock Memorial Sweepstakes award, named for the longtime, beloved local music educator, goes to the festival’s most outstanding band on Saturday night.

“It’s going to be a great educational experience with a great lineup of adjudicators and a great lineup of talented bands,” said festival director Doug Harris, who came aboard at Clark in 2018.

“It’s my second time doing it so it should be much less terrifying this time,” Harris said.

The timing of the faculty strike upped the terror for Harris, he said, but that’s all over now. Everything is ready.

If You Go

What: 58th annual Clark College Jazz Festival.
Where: Clark College’s Gaiser Hall, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver.
When: Today through Saturday. Middle school jazz ensembles perform today; 1A and 2A ensembles Friday; 3A and 4A ensembles Saturday.
Master classes, open to the public, at 3:30 p.m. (Latin percussion) and 4:30 p.m. (jazz improvisation) Friday.
Admission: $5 per day. Free for Clark College students and children under 12, accompanied by adult.

“We’re adding a big education component this time,” Harris said. The festival’s two guest clinicians will lead Friday afternoon master classes that aim to provide a little education for everyone, regardless of musical skill level. Both master classes are open to the public (with paid festival admission).

First, at 3:30 p.m., longtime Miami musician, bandleader and educator Michele Fernandez Denlinger will present a session on authentic Latin percussion — how to play it and how to teach it.

“A Latin tune could be any of many different things going in different directions, but we clump them all together,” Harris said. “Is it a Cuban tune, is it a samba, is it salsa, is it rumba, is it merengue?”

Denlinger will demonstrate the different styles in detail, Harris said.

The other workshop, set for 4:30 p.m., goes even more directly to the heart of jazz, Harris said.

Richard DeRosa is renowned jazz composer whose works have been heard on film, TV and Broadway. He will lead an hourlong session on improvisation.

“That’s the most important thing but it’s the most intimidating thing,” Harris said. “To me, jazz improvisation is the highest form of music, the most difficult, the most advanced form of music. You must have complete technical mastery. You have to have all your music theory, all your chord theory. And then you have to compose spontaneously.”

Improvisation and composition are actually just two approaches to the same goal, he said.

“I’ve heard it said that improvisation is spontaneous composition, and composition is slowed-down improvisation,” Harris said. “But composers don’t usually have to compose in front of an audience, in real time.”

Other pro adjudicators who’ll be on hand to listen, evaluate and encourage student musicians include saxophonist Don Norton, director of Jazz Studies at the University of Portland, and drummer Gary Hobbs, a Vancouver resident and busy working musician who has played with the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman orchestras.

There’s even going to be a musical world premiere. The Clark College Jazz Band, led by Harris, will do the honors on the first public performances of Denlinger’s new piece “Na Proxima Vida,” or “In the Next Life” at 5 p.m Thursday, noon and 8:30 p.m. Friday and 12:20 p.m. Saturday.