Jazz Fest draws area schools to UW-Platteville

48th annual UW-Platteville Jazz Fesitival creates opportunities for young students


Jacob Thomas photo

Miguel Zenon performing a jazz piece on his saxophone.

Students from surrounding school districts were given the opportunity to compete against each other and learn more about music at the 48th Annual University of Wisconsin-Platteville Jazz Festival last Friday.

Area jazz ensembles from both high schools and middle schools were given master classes on their various instruments and improvisation clinics from career musicians. They also competed against each other for the opportunity to perform on stage with Miguel Zenon, a renowned alto saxophone player, along with UW-Platteville’s own jazz ensemble.

Fort Atkinson’s Middle School Jazz Band won the competition and opened the 7 p.m. concert, followed by Jazz I and Jazz II, UW-Platteville’s top tier jazz bands and the master instructor at the festival, Miguel Zenon.

That competition was only a small portion of the day’s events. There were master classes for specific jazz instruments where students from different school districts worked together, clinics that focused on using jazz scales to improve on students’ improvisation techniques, and a jazz jam session led by Zenon.

Many of the instructors at the festival, like event judge Tom Gullion, were thrilled to have the opportunity to teach the students and watch them learn from each other.

“It’s a great opportunity to get a different perspective from someone new,” Gullion said. “It has always been a great way for students to meet other musicians and it helps them better each other.”

Tim Albright, another judge at the event and musician that played with Miguel Zenon, said most of the judges and instructors there enjoyed the festival almost as much as the students did.

“We love seeing students interested in their music and welcome to criticism in the name of improvement,” Albright said. “As a judge, it’s my responsibility to notice what goes right and what goes wrong, and I do all I can to try to help them fix it.”

Desmond Cervantez, Solon High School’s band director, said he takes that criticism to heart as much as the students do.

“Often the best thing for a band is to come to a competition and hear someone else’s opinion,” Cervantez said.  “Sometimes the judges will word things in a way that makes more sense to the students, and sometimes another pair of trained ears will catch something I might have missed. The bottom line is, an event like this will always help us improve.”