The Mount Baker jazz band and vocal jazz band have returned triumphantly from the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival at the University of Idaho in Moscow, ID. Not only was the experience extremely rewarding for the students and their instructor, but they also received the recognition of the festival for their performance.
Instructor Evan Bueckert had for years wanted to get his students into the festival, but because this prestigious festival is so popular, other directors would book themselves in for the next year as they were leaving, making it impossible for new entries to get their foot in the door. This year, however, the organizers decided to erase all accounts for the previous returning schools, forcing everyone to reapply from scratch, and Mount Baker made the cut.
“It was a big project but really worth it,” Bueckert said. He explained that the festival is quite competitive and ranked similarly to American sports, so A, AA, and AAA levels corresponding to school size, with Baker being ranked a AAA size, the most competitive and largest division.
In terms of grading, Mount Baker did exceptionally well, with two thirds of their grades placed in the excellent category — 70 to 84 per cent, and the top third ranked superior making for an overall excellent grade. There are ten categories each worth 100 marks including things like rhythm, intonation, articulation and style.
“That gave us an overall grade of excellent for each group which is a thrill for all of us because we just mostly went to hear the other bands play and see how the adjudicators would give us some help.”
He added that personally, as a music teacher, he likes to show Cranbrook kids that there are other people out there in the world that do what they do, love and enjoy it.
“And I just wanted them to network and have some fun meeting some kids from these fabulous American high schools — man, that’s all they do is play,” he said, adding that he had to explain to the kids that the students they were up against likely practised five hours a day, were in no other school programs and had private instruction. So even though they were up against a heavy-loaded setup, they did their best and the results were outstanding.
The vocal jazz group received an honourable mention from the festival, which to them constitutes second place over all. They were two per cent off of the highest mark in the entire festival, and were recognized on the front page of the festival’s website.
“It validates a lot of stuff that we’ve been working on; makes it worthwhile, makes them have a sense of achievement and purpose and all those hours of practising suddenly feel they’re worth it,” said Bueckert.
“And for me it’s a chance to convert the non-believers like ‘see, hard work pays off in the end and you get recognized on a national level in the States,’ a national level is no small thing, they’re super serious down there.”
He said there was a very tangible serious vibe to the festival — a sort of “don’t screw up” type feeling.
“Not amongst our guys, but we could watch the other kids not smiling, not having fun, playing like crazy, some of the groups definitely looked stressed,” said Bueckert, stating that his students actually were noted for the fact that they looked like they were having a lot of fun while they were playing — that it looked like they were there to put on a concert for their onlookers, rather than playing competitively.
“So we tried to make it fun and entertaining and it seemed to transfer,” said Bueckert. “We just did our thing and didn’t worry about what they were doing and let the kids believe in themselves.”
In addition to their stellar performances, Bueckert said that the workshops and gala performances were a huge highlight of the trip. After they were done with their required performances and judging, the students were free to peruse a gigantic festival schedule, pick what ever they want, and then run to a study hall and sit down with a top jazz bassist, or one of the greatest rock drummers on the planet and get help with their own instrument from these pros.
He said that the students could hardly contain their excitement upon leaving the festival and were all thrilled and inspired by what they had taken in.
“I couldn’t keep up so I went to some conducting ones and some composing ones,” said Bueckert. “That was fun for me too and then in the evening all these guys get together and form a huge faculty big band or trios or a vocal group and they would perform for us in the huge basketball arena in Moscow.”
Bueckert said he is really happy to be continuing this tradition; Mount Baker has a history of going to Lionel Hampton going back to the ‘80s and when Bueckert was a kid, he remembers seeing the jazz band play for the students and being inspired.
“I was so stoked from that, I thought that’s what I want to do, I’m gonna keep this up and I’m going to get into a band like that some day and little did I ever know I’d be at that school and running the program. They were red hot back then too and it’s just really fun maintaining this tradition.”
Now back from this marvellous experience, the ensembles will do a miniature tour of Cranbrook playing the same sets they played in Idaho. They will be at Amy Woodland at 9:00, Laurie Middle School at 10:20, Kootenay Orchards at 12:15 and Parkland Middle School at 1:35 on Friday, March 16. Bueckert hopes this will help promote the program and get some of the elementary and middle school students excited about playing music.