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Live Reviews

The First Annual Disney Jazz Celebration Festival

By Published: March 1, 2009

The education workshops and ensemble performances before the collegiate adjudicators began early Friday, February 20th at the Saratoga Springs Performance Hall with the first performances coming from the vocal groups, including the first-ever public performance from a nine-member all-female vocal ensemble Spanish River Splash from Spanish River High School and led by Rita Bowling. They performed three tunes: "Chili Con Carne," "Sonny," and 'Summertime." After each song the vocal adjudicators (Michelle Weir, Dr. Steve ZeGree and Larry Lapin) critiqued the performance and provided recommendations on style as well as substance. There were only three vocal bands participating, with the others being "BHS Voices" from Beaufort High School and the "Epic Jazz Choir," an outstanding group from Downey High School, located just east of LA. Led by Corey Olariu, this fifteen-member vocal group with their own three-piece rhythm section, began their turn with an energetic rendition of George Gershwin's "'S Wonderful" and continued in classy style with Antonio Carlos Jobim's immortal "Desafinado," then they moved to a striking version of Henry Mancini

Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini
and Johnny Mercer's familiar "Moon River," and closed with the Jackson Five pop tune, "I Want You Back".

The majority of the bands were large instrumental ensembles—often listing more than twenty-five student musicians—that in the professional world would be categorized as "super-sized" big bands. Of course, being middle and high school bands, they often carred more instrumentalists than the average big band in order to allow more student participation. Some of the participating bands included were from Beaumont Middle School, Central York City High, Eden Prairie High School, Graham High School, Laguna Beach High School, Odyssey Middle School, Pawling High School, Princeton High School, Sarasota Military Academy, South Portland High School, and St Joseph's Collegiate Institute. The collegiate adjudicators evaluating each performance on the instrumental side were Dr. Willie L. Hill, Jr., Joel Leach and Dr. Ramon Ricker.

An important part of the educational component at the festival was the on- going master classes taking place throughout the day on Friday and Saturday. These workshops provided students with the opportunity to interact with jazz celebrities and learn techniques and tricks of the trade from the best in the business. Leading the clinics were master saxophonist Bob Mintzer, woodwinds clinician; trombonist extraordinaire Jiggs Whigham (all the way from Germany, where he resides), who was the brass clinician; drummer Steve Fidyk, who led the percussion classes; finally; vocalist Jennifer Barnes, who provided instructions on jazz singing.

The other major highlight of this first Jazz Celebration Festival was the Friday night jam session held at the Hollywood Disney Premiere Theatre. Led and directed by Dr. Willie L. Hill, Jr., student-musicians were picked at random and divided into six groups, in which they would perform with the various artists, allowing them to share the stage with jazz celebrities and showcase some of their skills. As Dr. Hill called their names for each performance, the students jumped from their seats and rushed the stage with youthful enthusiasm eager to play. Though the performances were totally unrehearsed, students and celebrities played standard tunes that all the students were familiar with. Each group began playing one chorus together before Dr. Hill pointed to the next student's turn to solo. The jam session began with the first group playing Duke Ellington's "C Jam Blues" with Jiggs Whigham and a handful of students from the different school ensembles.

Disney Jazz Celebration 2009 Dr. Willie Hill, Jr.(left), saxophonist Bob Mintzer and trumpeter Nathan Warner at Friday night jam session

The second group featured Ken Whalum and Dr. Ramon Ricker as they played Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa," trading saxophone lines between the artists and students. Guest performer Laura "Lolly" Allen, a four-mallet vibraphonist, was joined by vocalist Jennifer Barnes and drummer Steve Fidyk leading the third group. Two of the best performances of the night were provided by the fourth and fifth groups. The fourth group played the all-time Billy Strayhorn standard "Take The "A" Train" (Duke Ellington's theme song) and featured Larry Lapin on the piano, Mintzer on tenor, Jiggs Whigham on the trombone and Bach-featured artist, Nathan Warner on an arresting trumpet—all sharing the stage with student musicians awed by the situation they found themselves in.

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