TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Northeastern State University hosted the 51st annual Green Country Jazz Festival Monday, and schools from across the state converged to prove which ensembles were the best.
For the students who visit NSU to compete, it offers a chance to be evaluated by world-renowned artists like organist Pat Bianchi, who performed at the final concert Monday evening.
"For one, it gives us an opportunity to get prepared for our ultimate end-of-the-year goal, which is state contest," said Kevin Couch, music director at Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences. "It gets us in front of some really qualified judges who give us a good solid critique and know where we are in the process. In addition to that, having guest artist - a professional who comes in and puts on a concert with the university ensemble - that's an added benefit for our students to get to see something like that."
Dressed in black, each school musician performed on stage at NSU's Center for Performing Arts. Afterward, the bands proceeded to clinics, where judges offered feedback and notes on their performances.
Kyle Broadbooks, drummer for Verdigris High School, said the feedback helps the band improve as a whole, while their performances give them extra stage experience that could help later on down the road. Aside from that, Broadbooks said the jazz festival is also just a good time.
"I kind of just like going to all of the contests," said Broadbooks. "To get out of our area and travel, just to go play jazz, it's fun for me."
The benefits of the Green Country Jazz Festival flow in two directions. While the event helps high school students prepare for future competitions, it also allows the NSU Music Department a chance to check out potential future students.
"I visit all of these high schools," said Dr. Clark Gibson, director of Jazz Studies. "We get all sorts of great students from this festival and we always find great students who want to come here."
Any genre of music will change over the years, as will its popularity. While Gibson said he and the judges at Green Country Jazz Festival grew up listening to jazz, some students are just experiencing it for the first time, and that opens them up to a world with which they are unfamiliar.
"As technology has gotten so much better, the one thing I think I see out of people is that this new generation hasn't grown up with this music," said Gibson. "Everything now is technology. Used to, if you watched a movie from the '40s on, it was all live music; it was a live orchestra. Now you watch these big blockbuster movies and there aren't musicians; it's computer. Very rarely do you get a movie with a real band. It's just part of the world moving forward."
Gibson said jazz's popularity ebbs and flows, but it's not dead. Many musicians play music dating back to the '40s, but artists still write and compose modern jazz music, too. And jazz could perhaps be viewed as a music genre that transcends time and distance, according to Gibson.
"All of these guys - the judges - they're from all over," said Gibson. "Jazz musicians and professional musicians are one big family across the world. I can go anywhere, in any major city in the world, and play music with people I've never met. So, I think it just shows a togetherness, festivals like this. How often do you get some of the greatest musicians in the world coming to Tahlequah, Oklahoma?"