Elon to host 15th annual jazz festival

Hundreds of middle and high school musicians from North Carolina and Virginia visit campus this week for a two-day jazz festival that includes workshops, performances and opportunities for students to work one-on-one with top jazz clinicians, including this year’s guests, trombonist Tom Brantley and Swedish pianist Per Danielsson.

The Feb. 18-19 festival will help promote Elon University’s Jazz Studies program and its jazz ensemble.

Sponsored by the Elon University Department of Music, the Feb. 18-19 festival showcases the Elon campus and its Jazz Studies program to aspiring musicians who will travel from as far as Richmond, Va., to attend the 15th annual event.

The festival culminates Saturday evening with a concert in McCrary Theatre that is free and open to the public starting at 7:30 p.m. Musicians – including faculty, alumni, Elon students, the visiting clinicians, and guest artists – will perform “The Blue and Green Project,” a mixed media presentation of new compositions by tenor saxophonist Jack Wilkins inspired by southern Appalachia.

The program involved research into the Appalachian mountain culture and environment as inspiration for a series of compositions that combine the inspiration of American roots music, including blues, gospel, jazz, mountain music and New Orleans traditions, with suggestive inspiration of Appalachian mountains, the people, the artists, the craftsmen and environment.

This festival is an outreach program for perpetuating American jazz music so we can keep that tradition alive,” said Elon associate professor Jon Metzger, an acclaimed jazz vibraphonist who directs the event. “It is also a recruiting vehicle for us having all these students on campus so they can see Elon and the jazz studies program.”

Metzger said he began the program to provide an opportunity for middle and high school bands to come to the university and receive instruction from clinicians, students and faculty, notably with developing improvisation skills. Improvisation is something rarely taught in high schools because of the time constraints placed on band directors, he added.

The festival has grown exponentially since its inaugural year when 150 students attended. About 400 participants are expected this week.

One activity involves the judging of visiting bands by the clinicians. Each band has 30 minutes to perform three selections. After the performance, clinicians work with the bands and select the outstanding soloists for each ensemble. “I know what it meant to me when I was a student and got to rub elbows with a pro,” Metzger said, “so I wanted to select clinicians who really inspire with their playing and their teaching, giving students the tools they need.”

And the benefit to Elon University jazz studies students? Metzger said the festival is an ideal opportunity for them to benefit from the visit by clinicians, who will also be giving master classes for Elon students as part of their roles in the festival.

For more information on the festival, contact Jon Metzger at jmetzger@elon.edu.

– Written by Sarah Costello ’11