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The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

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In 20th year, ETHS jazz festival hits high notes

The day-and-night long festival brings in professional artists, music students for a day of relaxing tunes, chances for learning
In+20th+year%2C+ETHS+jazz+festival+hits+high+notes

On Saturday, Feb. 10, there was music in the air at ETHS – jazz music.

Students in 50 different student bands from 26 high schools and middle schools across Illinois spent the day performing, learning and listening to jazz at the 20th annual ETHS Jazz Festival.

The Festival, which was the largest it’s ever been this year, was first held in 2004 with what current Festival organizer and ETHS band director Matthew Bufis calls “humble beginnings.” Organized by a group of parents and former ETHS band teacher Dr. David Fodor, it featured a mere 11 bands and only held performances and clinics during the day. Since then, the Festival has grown, adding a professional noontime performance, workshops taught by professional musicians and music professors and a ticketed evening show.

Organizing an event of this size was no easy task.

“It is months of planning. I would say a good portion of my job for the last two months has been [preparing for] this Jazz Festival, and it will probably be for about six weeks afterwards,” explained Bufis. 

Although Bufis and a dedicated group of parents do much of the work getting the Festival up and running, it was also helped by ETHS student volunteers who are gathered from all corners of the school.

“Not only are we having band, choir and orchestra student volunteers, but we’ve tapped into national honor society, we’ve tapped into ambassadors, we’ve tapped into the volunteer office up in the Hub,” listed Bufis. “I think in total [we have] close to between 150 and 200 volunteers.”

When they were not volunteering to make sure the Festival ran smoothly, ETHS band students, as well as students from 25 other schools, attended the Festival’s many clinics where they received valuable feedback from music educators and full-time musicians. The feedback came in many forms: written comments, voice recordings and in-person notes. All of it will be put to good use.

“We as directors immediately plug that in, like, ‘Hey, that was a great comment that they gave. We need to try and work on that. Let’s see if we can get better at what they said,’” said Bufis. “And we do some reflection in rehearsals as well and ask the students what they thought, what was their favorite part, what did they get out of it?” 

And the information came at just the right time for the ETHS bands.

“The Festival is a couple of weeks before our big band concerts and our combo concerts. So you get the feedback, which is helpful as you go on and … keep practicing this music,” described junior Luke Denman

In addition to clinics, students attended workshops that taught more specialized skills. Among others, there was an improvisation workshop, a rhythm section workshop, a guitar workshop and the Play By Ear workshop – a student favorite. 

At the Play By Ear workshop, Dr. Todd Kelly, professor of music at Bradley University, taught students a song completely by ear. Kelly played a few notes at a time while the students repeated them back, eventually building up to where the students could play the entire song by memory. By the end of the workshop, the room was filled with the sound of 50 (or more) students dancing and excitedly blasting New Orleans jazz. It was a joyful and judgment-free experience.

“It felt very free. You could play as loud as you want, and no one was gonna come at you if you messed up. It was a very low-stakes environment,” remarked Denman.

Across several schools in the fifteen years he has been leading the workshop Kelly has only received a positive response from students. He said students have told him “nothing but how much fun it is.” 

Students didn’t just learn from instructors at the jazz Festival, however. Some of the most important information was gained by watching other students perform.

“We really direct our students to go and see specific groups from different high schools so that they learn different pieces of music, so that they get inspired by hearing other high school students that are as good or better than them,” states Bufis.

The Festival featured two performances by professional jazz musicians: the noontime show featuring the Alyssa Allgood Quintet and the evening show with Bobby Broom and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra.

In her hour-long show, Allgood, a former student of Bufis, performed some of her uplifting, original melodies alongside impressive saxophone, piano, and bass solos by members of her quintet. 

At 7 PM in the auditorium, Broom and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra took the stage following an energetic and impressive opening performance by the ETHS jazz band. Broom and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra played a number of songs from their soon-to-be released collaborative album inspired by the work of legendary jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, as well as other songs like the Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road.” The performance was enjoyed by a packed audience of jazz fans that included students, community residents and former ETHS jazz program alumni.

The performances provided a rare opportunity for Evanston residents and students to be immersed in great jazz for a low cost in their own community. 

“You couldn’t see these groups downtown for anywhere near the price that we’re charging. Bringing these national names to ETHS to clinic our students, to perform for and with our students, is really valuable,” Bufis said. “It’s something I know our students look forward to annually, and our families look forward to annually.

The Festival makes students better musicians and better jazz listeners, which is crucial to the art form

“Educated listeners hopefully will make sure that the level of music remains high … and that the heritage of the music remains intact,” explained Broom.

Bufis appreciates the role of the ETHS Jazz Festival in inspiring the next generation of jazz musicians and listeners.

“There’s a point of pride about hosting your own festival and feeling like this is a place for jazz,” concludes Bufis. “People are coming here because we do this well, and we’re putting on an event that is to everyone’s benefit.”

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About the Contributor
Sam Froum, A&E Editor
Hi, I’m Sam Froum (he/him), and I’m the Editor of A&E and Photo & Art. This is my third year on staff. Previously I was the assistant editor of A&E and a staff writer. I write for the Evanstonian because it allows me to become a better writer and provides opportunities for collaboration with other students. I also run cross country and track and participate in Wildkit Buddies. Outside of school, I like to draw, run and watch TV.
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