District Jazz Students met for 2023 All-Stars Jam, the finale night of improvisation rehearsals, in preparation for Jazz Festival season, in the Esperanza Band Room, February 23rd.
Celebrating 10 years of Jazz Jams, the finale was headlined by featured clinicians; Jeff Jarvis – trumpet, Jeff Ellwood – tenor saxophone, Alex Flavell – piano, Lyman Medeiros – bass and Rodolfo Zuniga – drums. This session was all about enjoying the music with a professional house band backing up our district jazz students as they joined in to play with professional mentor musicians.
Jeff Ellwood, the director of Jazz Studies at Mount San Antonio College, has been the most consistent clinicians over the last 10 years. Speaking throughout the sessions, he advises about improving solos, “focus on four notes in the chord, … use notes from the melody … .” He says that the (improvised solo) does not have to be original art, instead he tells students to learn by imitating to build musical phrase vocabulary.
Another headliner, Grammy-nominated pianist Alex Flavell, is a Valencia High School alum that has also attended from the beginning, as a sophomore in 2014.
PYLUSD Jazz Jam Sessions have been going on for 10 years now. Davis started the district-wide Jazz Jam program with the first installment in January 2013, which offers over 150 high school jazz students the opportunity to learn improvisation by performing with their peers and professional musicians.
“(Our Sessions) were inspired by student Jam Sessions we got to watch and take part in when Esperanza Jazz played in the 2012 Essentially Ellington festival in New York at Jazz at Lincoln Center,” said Mr. Davis. “The focus is simply, that in order to have a successful big band, you have to focus more on small band concepts. This allows EEU students to focus on building a well-rounded musicianship skill set, while continuing to build our community with other jazz musicians in our district.”
The program allows students to work with and hear other students from the district, to learn about jazz’s influences and become more comfortable with the craft of improvisation, skills students would be expected to know in their first two years of college.
“Students start making relationships, both musically and personally,” said Eric Samson, director of instrumental music at El Dorado High School. “They usually come away inspired to improve.”