Elon University’s Center of the Arts opened its doors to amateur and professional jazz musicians alike for the 18th Annual Elon University Jazz Festival. The festival, run by music professional and jazz ensemble director Matt Buckmaster, provides an opportunity for Elon musicians, as well as young musicians from middle and high schools in the area, to learn from the best.
The first step in making a festival come to life is choosing the right clinicians to come in to work with the students, a job Buckmaster took very seriously.
“I wanted to look for a player in rhythm section and an instrumentalist,” Buckmaster said. “We try to get as big of names as we can that can also teach well. We want players and educators. The clinicians need to work with high school, middle school and college students.”
This year’s clinicians were Craig Whittaker and Jeff Phillips. The two worked with various groups throughout the weekend. For music department chair Jon Metzger, the festival gives the department a chance to reach out and nurture younger musicians in their passion for music.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for community outreach,” Metzger said. “The directors of the [middle and high] school bands are grateful because we’re reinforcing their teachings and providing this service. These students are also being adjudicated by internationally known artists.”
Brandon Mitchell, a sophomore who plays the vibraphone for the jazz ensemble, was one of the students who helped run Friday’s workshops for the high school and middle school bands.
“I think it is a great experience for both us and the high school kids to interact with each other in this new language of jazz that we are all students of and are learning to play,” Mitchell said. “Jazz is something that has been played and studied for nearly a century and through all of its evolutions, it still is jazz as we may know it.”
The festival’s culminating concert reaches out directly to the Elon community.
But the festival is more about the students and Metzger, as much as any student, understands the need for festivals like this for young and aspiring jazz musicians.
“Events like this mean the world to me,” Metzger said. “It was wonderful to get that encouragement, to play next to the pros, rubbing elbows. It made me a better player. I started like this at these festivals. I know the value of [experiences like this] because I lived it first hand.”
The festival, held on Feb. 21 and 22, may have come to a close eventually, but the music department will continue to hold the festival for the foreseeable future because, as Buckmaster said, it is important to continue the tradition of a genre so closely tied to our cultural heritage.
“The main point [of the festival] is to share the passion of music, and jazz especially,” Buckmaster said. “Jazz is a specific musical vernacular, and a piece of our heritage. People on a stage who can play jazz can communicate on a deeper level. We hope our festival can offer a little taste of that.”