UMSL’s Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival returns after two-year hiatus

by | Apr 28, 2022

This festival, designed to support the development of participating schools’ music programs, attracted 500 high school students performing in 33 bands.

Adaron “Pops” Jackson (at the piano), director of the David and Thelma Institute for Jazz Studies at UMSL and assistant teaching professor of music at UMSL, performs with the Greater St. Louis Jazz Orchestra last Friday during the return of the Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Chris Hollingsworth, a junior at the University of St. Louis–Missouri, had missed playing in the Anheuser-Busch Hall at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center.

Performances in the space were halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the member of the UMSL Jazz Orchestra got his chance to return to that stage last week as the Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival returned after a two-year hiatus.

“The acoustics are very different,” Hollingsworth said. “Anheuser-Busch Hall is much larger.”

The jazz orchestra closed out both nights of the festival, which attracted 500 high school students performing in 33 bands. In the 15-year history of the festival, more than 535 schools have participated, reaching over 12,000 students.

Adaron Jackson directs the UMSL Jazz Orchestra during the 2022 Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival

Adaron Jackson directs the UMSL Jazz Orchestra Friday night during the 2022 Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center.

This year the festival drew school districts from as far away as Southwest Missouri. The nationally known festival was an opportunity for students to observe, learn and enjoy in front of an audience.

It marked the first year the Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival was led by Adaron Jackson, director of the David and Thelma Institute for Jazz Studies at UMSL and assistant teaching professor of music. The musician, educator and clinician took over leadership of the UMSL Jazz Program shortly before the pandemic began, which prevented him from immediately taking the reins of the event.

It was a large undertaking he believed would be a beneficial and educational experience.

“This festival is designed to support the development of participating schools’ music programs,” Jackson said. “Our goal is to inspire students and band directors through the experience of receiving professional feedback from clinicians and adjudicators and to provide an opportunity to experience performances from world class jazz musicians.”

Each band received an hour and a half for warm-up, performance and clinic critiques.

Sydney King, a senior and drummer with the more than 30-member jazz ensemble at Triad High School, has been playing multiple instruments, including bass guitar, guitar, piano and saxophone since she was 9. Initially, jazz didn’t interest her, but she came around and eventually saw it as a means of expression. She looked forward to the critiques in order to improve her musicality and that of the band.

“I’m hoping to gain a little bit more knowledge about how this band works because we’re really a big jazz band,” she said. “With this many people, I know we can sound a little bit better with intonation and stuff like that.”

Other students such as Natalee Huff of Parkway West High School found the festival to be beneficial as well and could glean insights not only from the adjudicators but also the other bands.

“I think it’s really neat seeing different schools with different experiences and different teachers,” she said. “I might find a song and maybe learn it on my own.”

Along with students, adjudicators were excited about the festival and seeing different high school jazz ensembles. Sam Griffith, the director of jazz studies at Mizzou, was curious to see how students would put their own twist on the music selections.

“There’s so many different ways you can interpret music as a whole,”Griffith said. “With jazz soloing, people get to have their own say. I think that’s different than most other music. I think it’s one of the things I definitely enjoyed the most.”

Share
Wendy Todd

Wendy Todd

Eye on UMSL: Building blocks

Members of the Spring 2024 graduating class of the University of Missouri–St. Louis play Jenga during the annual New Grad Bash on Thursday.