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The First Annual Disney Jazz Celebration Festival

Edward Blanco By

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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.
Disney Jazz Celebration Festival
Disney World
Orlando, Florida
February 19-21, 2009

Billed as a celebration of jazz music Disney Style, Disney World has joined the ranks of major entertainment venues that is now promoting jazz to younger audiences when it launched the first annual Disney Jazz Celebration Festival. Developed as part of its Disney Youth Programs, the festival provided an exciting mix of education, live concerts and just plain old fun to students of participating middle and high school vocal and instrumental ensembles from all over the country through workshops, clinics and performances with top jazz artists. The primary focus, of course, was education with the opportunity to learn from world- famous jazz educators and artists. In addition, the student jazz bands were also evaluated by renowned collegiate adjudicators who critiqued performances, imparted knowledge and graded overall performances by the groups. Disney Jazz Celebration is supported in part by Conn-Selmer, Inc., a leading manufacturer, distributor and supplier of concert and orchestral musical instruments that also outfits Disney's fifty bands.

This first-ever jazz series drew the interest of jazz luminaries like saxophonist and band leader Bob Mintzer, drummer and educator Steve Fidyk, legendary trombonist and band leader Jiggs Whigham, and vocalist/ multi-instrumentalist Laura "Lolly" Allen among others. Helping to kick off the inaugural Disney Jazz Celebration on Thursday evening, February 19th, was a performance from internationally-acclaimed jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. An educator himself as a tenured professor at Florida International University, Sandoval was the featured guest that evening as he helped to introduce the many musician-educators who would be serving as adjudicators as well as the jazz artists assuming the role of clinicians.

Arturo Sandoval / Disney Jazz Celebration 2009 Arturo Sandoval (trumpet) and his band, with Ed Calle (sax)

An "Honorary Citizen of Disney," this was not Sandoval's first appearance at Disney World. Having performed here many times, he boasted that before becoming a citizen of the United States, Disney was kind enough to grant him citizenship first. Explaining that he was glad to be asked to be at this first Jazz Celebration Festival as a part of promoting jazz to younger audiences, he implored the students to keep jazz alive, stating that once jazz "used to be the locomotive [engine] of the train and now it's more like the caboose."

Heading the list of the vocal adjudicators were Michelle Weir (leading figure in vocal jazz education and former member of the Grammy-nominated vocal group "The PM Singers," Dr. Steve Zegree (Bobby McFerrin Professor of Jazz at Western Michigan University) and pianist/composer Larry Lapin (Professor of Jazz Studies and Jazz Vocal Programs at the University of Miami). On the instrumental side, the adjudicators included Dr. Willie L. Hill, Jr. (Director of the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst), Joel Leach (Professor of Music at California State University-Northridge), and Dr. Ramon Ricker (Associate Dean for Professional Studies and Professor of Saxophone at the Eastman School of Music).

The festival's welcoming event was a head-turning, virtuoso performance from Arturo Sandoval and his sextet that featured pianist Manuel Valera and saxophonist Ed Calle, both of whom played off Sandoval, delivering excellent solos throughout the concert. Held at the Premiere Theatre at Disney's Hollywood Studios, this welcome gathering drew over 700 students and directors from participating bands—from as close as Sarasota, Florida to as far as East L.A., Minnesota, New Jersey and Portland. Sandoval's music touched on a variety of jazz genres—from Latin jazz to hard bop, from the blues to just plain old straight-ahead contemporary jazz. Sandoval himself was extraordinary as he performed not only on the horn in his classic stratospheric style but also on percussion and a synthesizer before capping off the evening with a stunning performance on the piano (which he proclaimed his "real" passion).

Sandoval performed for close to two hours, engaging the student audience with his wit and impressive scatting which had the responsive audience voicing appreciative whoops on several occasions. He shared the stage with Los Angeles-based educator/vocalist Jennifer Barnes and then later with a rising young talent in the person of saxophonist Kenneth Whalum, a Selmer featured artist, who happens to be the nephew of saxophone great Kirk Whalum. They performed a delicious rendition of the old standard (partially penned by Johnny Mercer) "Autumn Leaves" before giving way to Sandoval's special tribute to the late Oscar Peterson, for whom Sandoval had previously written a tune entitled "Oscar," as he played the piano, pounding the keys into submission in a captivating performance.


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