Every March/April Savannah holds a Music Festival. For seventeen days there are concerts, often three or four and sometimes more each day. One of the highlights of the series in our view, is something they call Swing Central Jazz. It comprises a number of high school jazz bands who come to Savannah for several days and are tutored by some of the name professionals who are here to appear in the music festival. This year there were twelve bands that were invited to participate. The professionals who tutored the kids included jazz pianist Marcus Roberts, saxophonist Jeff Clayton, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, trumpeter Jon Faddis and drummer Jason Marsalis, to name a few. Some of these professionals also travel to the high schools during the year to provide instruction in playing jazz. The week culminates for these kids in a competition for a first, second and third place money prize on Friday. The bands compete during the day, each playing the same three pieces that had been identified last Fall, allowing each to make their own arrangement of the pieces and how they would be presented. Then the three top bands are announced and they perform again in the evening after which the winning order is announced. Following the kids performances the professionals play a concert of their own.
I went all day last Friday to hear these bands compete and my wife and I went to the evening performance as well. The kids are terrific ! It amazes me that people so young can play so well. To my ear, they are all professional level performers. I don’t know how the judges are able to pick the winners. One band from Fort Lauderdale,Florida – Dillard Cente rfor the Arts Jazz Ensemble – had won the last two years and this year it tied for first with a band from Agoura Hills,California. I guessed that the Dillard group would be finalists again as they had a unique presentation. As to the others, I really couldn’t pick one or two as standing far above the rest.
Some of the band directors, in thanking the festival organizers, parents of the kids and their school administrators for the support of the program mentioned that these kids met three or more times a week as early as six a.m. to get their practices in while attending their normal classes. So often we hear of the early and difficult practices for the various athletic teams in high schools and even have them highlighted on the local evening news, but we seldom think about and virtually never see what the arts majors are doing to reach their potentials. What is really troubling is to hear that the band, or art classes, choir or drama activities have to be cut from the public school curricula for budgetary reasons.
As an end note, it was amusing to see the kids, who are so professional when they are on the stage performing, sitting together in the audience before and after they perform, acting like teenagers. I know that is what they are, but when they are performing it is hard to remember that their hormones are raging and that they are at that time of life when they are trying to devise their own personalities and independence. These young folks are great ambassadors for their contemporaries. When one wants to despair over “today’s youth” they need only see what thee kids are doing.