State champions of jazz gather in Gresham
If you go
What: Oregon State Jazz Championships, featuring 30 high school jazz ensembles from around Oregon
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, May 18, followed by Mt. Hood Jazz Ensemble performance
Where: College Theater and Visual Arts Theater at Mt. Hood Community College, 26000 S.E. Stark St.
Admission: Free and open to the public
For the second spring in a row, some of the finest young musicians in Oregon will converge on the Mt. Hood Community College campus to compete in the Oregon State Jazz Championships for various accolades and awards.
Sure, the Oregon Music Education Association-sponsored event is a competition — complete with six adjudicators, or judges — but this being about music and all, the atmosphere is not exactly cut-throat.
"I think it's a pretty supportive environment," says event founder Dan Davey, director of jazz studies at MHCC. "A lot of students look up to other students and are willing to help other students. A lot of them understand that the genre improves when the community of musicians improves."
The Oregon State Jazz Championships will feature 30 "big band"-style jazz ensembles playing 25-minute sets from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 18, in two MHCC venues, the College Theater and Visual Arts Theater.
"It's a fun, nice electricity on campus that day," Davey says of the event. "It's pretty neat."
Following the championships, the Mt. Hood Jazz Ensemble will perform in the College Theater, featuring guest performer Jared Sims, director of jazz studies at West Virginia University.
"Jared is a friend of mine from the Boston area," says Davey, who came to Mt. Hood college from Boston four years ago. "It should be pretty fun."
The event is free, and the general public is welcome to attend.
Davey created the championships last year as something of a companion to the Northwest Jazz Band Festival, held this year on May 4 at MHCC. That event featured 75 jazz bands and local professional musicians.
"Any band could sign up for it," he says, noting that he based the concept on his experiences in the Massachusetts school-based music world. "Surprisingly, most other states had this, but they've never had one in Oregon."
For the championships, bands are invited to perform based on their qualifying scores from other competitions around the state.
"The state (championships), you have to have done well enough to qualify," Davey says. "This is the World Series of jazz-band events."
From high schools all around Oregon, the bands generally comprise about 20 student musicians and feature a horn section of trumpets, saxophones and trombones and a rhythm section including guitar, bass, drums and sometimes, vibraphone.
Performances are rated by a panel of impartial judges.
"Technically, whoever scores the highest will be the top jazz band in Oregon," Davey says. "Thirty bands are coming and competing for placements within their division (and judged by) six adjudicators from out of state, so they're not familiar with the bands."
The ability and passion of the musicians gives Davey hope that music, including improvisatory jazz, still stirs students' passions despite the myriad competing interests of sports and other extracurricular activities.
"Jazz is a type of music, maybe the only type taught right now, that is improvisatory and has a connection with what (students) might hear (for example) at a restaurant," he says. "I think there is a connection, and it gives them an outlet.
"The quality of jazz bands gets better every year in this area, from what I've witnessed," Davey adds. "There's some really great things going on. It's encouraging."