Annual jazz festival commences in Evanston

LT jazz students attend for captivating experience, feedback

Nicholas Barbera, News Editor, Multimedia Editor

On Feb. 11, Evanston Township High School hosted the 19th Jazz Festival, an event that has been hosting between 30-45 different groups since 2004 of which LT has attended 16 of the 19, ETHS band director Matthew Bufis said.

“I like hearing all the different groups,” Bufis said. “Everyone’s take on jazz is a little different [and] just hearing what people do with [jazz is] always exciting. I love the opportunity to see my colleagues bring their groups from different areas and hear where their strengths and weaknesses are [but also] their creative stretches, that’s a lot of fun.”

The festival was started by Bufis’ predecessor David Foder, who had a significant background in jazz education including his doctorate from Northwestern University, along with a passionate parent committee. Something that distinguishes ETHS’ festival from other jazz events hosted by other schools is the focus on improvement over competition, Bufis said. Each school has a 45-minute time slot, in which they will perform about three songs for two professional evaluators who can be anyone from collegiate educators to professional jazz musicians. The evaluators then provide feedback and work with the band for the remainder of the time.

“I, of course, love hearing all the feedback from the different evaluators,” Bufis said. “All of [the evaluators] bring something different to the table, which is especially interesting for the non-competitive nature of our event. I like our festival where we’re trying to take a group from wherever they are with jazz and make them better.”

Helping jazz musicians at varying levels is the focus of the festival, Bufis said.

“I really want our groups that come to immediately get better and be able to leave knowing what they need to do to improve,” Bufis said.

After a school’s clinic was complete, the students had time to watch other schools’ performances and attend a free-to-the-public concert at noon. Between this concert and the ticketed headliner performance, jazz students were given the opportunity to attend a much anticipated “play it by ear” clinic, Connor Kachmarik ‘23 said.

“That was my favorite clinic that we did,” Kachmarik said. “The clinician basically taught every single person that was there, so not just our jazz bands but every single band [and] every single musician that was there how to play the song by teaching it by ear. So, it’d be him playing it on a piano and then everyone playing back what they heard. We had a conga line going through the entire room [during the performance].”

Nate Spratford ‘23 also described his fond memories of the “play it by ear” clinic from his past experiences at the Evanston Jazz festival.

“We were learning a New Orleans brass band tune all by ear and by the end, everyone was just playing their parts and the guy running it was calling out different sections [and] different vocal chants for everyone; it’s just like a wall of sound,” Spratford said. “I think it’s really important that the bands get out and share their music with other kids who play the music [and] professionals who have lived this music for their whole life. It’s really important to get that extra layer of feedback and presentation. Anything outside of the traditional ‘prepare for a concert, play a concert’ cycle is super important.”

The daytime portion of the festival concluded with a question and answer session with the headlining guest artists for the festival, Bufis said. This was a “teaser” for attendees who then go out to dinner and return for our evening ticketed event.

“Hearing those professionals come and really expand the boundaries of what our students know to be possible [and] for them to be inspired hearing that really great improv solo or that trumpet that plays the high notes or the bass player that’s doing all sorts of acrobatics that is the really capstone element of the festival,” Bufis said.