A group of eight high school students brought musical energy on stage as they performed a series of classic jazz performances at the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC). Their March 20 show was part of the Seton Hall University Art Council’s Jazz ‘n the Hall series.
The students are known as the Denver Jazz Club Youth All-Stars, a high school jazz ensemble from Denver. Since 2009, the group has performed across the country at jazz festivals in cities such as New Orleans and New York City, as well as internationally in Italy and Switzerland. Each year, the band features a different group of students from different high schools, as some graduate and new students make their way into the band after going through a highly selective audition process.
Dr. Ed Cannava, the founder and director of the group, said that Seton Hall sponsored the ensemble and arranged accommodations for them to perform. Cannava said the group met Professor Gloria Thurmond, the program director of Jazz ‘n the Hall, and Professor Gregory Scime, the assistant to the program director, at a jazz festival in Italy.
“It is wonderful,” Cannava said. “In the history of our band, we have never had an opportunity like this where our trip has been paid for. We were invited to other events, but to have a sponsorship like this where they [the students] do not have to pay out of pocket is just incredible.”
Cannava said that the band is unique compared to others because they perform the “roots of jazz,” with pieces dating back to the 1920’s by artists like Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and Bix Beiderbecke. He added that the students study this genre and listen to these pieces as an influence for when they incorporate these elements into their own arrangements.
Cannava said that the band performs this type of traditional jazz because it is becoming less recognized by adults and young musicians every year. He said these performances are one way of preventing traditional jazz from dying and passing it on so that more people are receptive to it.
“From this event, we hope that the musicians have gained an understanding that they can get a receptive audience,” he said. “For the people who attended and may not have heard this kind of music—this early jazz music—we hope they will realize how entertaining and fun it really is and that they will become great consumers of music.”
Throughout the evening performance, the band performed several instrumental pieces and a few famous songs, such as ‘What a Wonderful World’ and ‘Bill Bailey.’ The band also performed songs where members sang and moved rhythmically to the music.
August Pimentel, a senior economics major, said that the band was “really cool” and that he enjoyed the energy that the brand brought on stage.
“I think jazz is really interesting because every artist is going to put their own spin on it and you can get their personalities from this,” Pimentel said. “With each one of these kids, you heard their heart and soul as they were pounding on the keys with their fingers, and that’s timeless.”
Carolina Fernandez, a sophomore biology major, said that she thinks traditional jazz is a part of American culture and that it should be revitalized, especially for her generation.
“It is a good thing that the band is out here bringing students out and inspiring them to listen to this music,” Fernandez said. “You can see that they really enjoyed it and that makes you want to enjoy the experience more, too.”