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State’s Oldest Jazz Festival To Bring Legendary Musicians To SHSU

March 21, 2014
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Story By: Amy Barnett

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Jazz Ensemble on stage in the Performing Arts Center
SHSU's Jazz Ensemble (above), directed by Aric Schneller, will be among the groups performing as part of the annual Bill Watrous Jazz Festival, scheduled March 28-29 on the SHSU campus. —Photo by Brian Blalock


The Sam Houston State University School of Music will provide great music, education and competition for young artists when it hosts the fourth annual Bill Watrous Jazz Festival on Friday and Saturday (March 28-29) at the James and Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center.

Although only the fourth year in which the festival has bore the name of the legendary jazz trombonist, it has been a part of SHSU for 54 years, making it the oldest jazz festival in Texas.

“Sam Houston has always been known as the jazz mecca throughout the southeast region of Texas,” said Aric Schneller, SHSU director of jazz studies and Bill Watrous Jazz Festival artistic director. “We are rich in the history of jazz and by having Bill Watrous in the name of our festival, it brings more attention to Sam Houston, attracts students and educators, and helps us grow the festival back to what is was in its heyday.”

Watrous’ career boomed in the 1960s when he played and recorded with many jazz luminaries and was, for three years, part of the house band on the “Merv Griffin Show.” Watrous also coauthored the book, “Trombonisms,” an instructional manual covering various performance techniques for the trombone.

Now, 74 years old, he lives in Los Angeles and continues to perform across the country and abroad.

Prior to adding Watrous’ name to the SHSU Jazz Festival, it was a one-day event featuring no more than 12 bands. It has now grown to a two-day festival, with 23 bands signed up to perform and compete this year.

During the festival, middle school, high school and college jazz bands will perform every 30 minutes throughout the day and receive critique sheets from the nationally known jazz educators who will make up the panel of five judges.

The panelists are Scott Plugge, director of SHSU School of Music; Ken Edwards, from the University of Texas at Arlington; Freddie Mendoza, from Texas State University—San Marcos; Marvin Parks, from North Forest ISD and Texas Southern University; and Michael Wheeler, from the University of St. Thomas and University of Houston.

Three judges will critique the bands and the two remaining will host a clinic with each band following its performance.

headshot Lynn Seaton playing the bass
Lynn Seaton

Special guest Lynn Seaton, known as one of the top five jazz bass players in the world today, will also conduct a clinic each afternoon, and each school band will be required to listen to their competitors.

“Listening is such a vital part of music education,” Schneller said. “We are requesting that students listen to the performances of at least two other bands. This will provide an audience for each band and an opportunity for participants to hear live performances.

“It’s a really nice way for kids to compete in a healthy environment while still supporting each other and doing what we do which is listening and performing jazz.”

Each evening at 7:30 p.m., concerts will be held in the GPAC Concert Hall featuring Watrous, Seaton, the SHSU Jazz Ensemble, and other special guests, along with an awards ceremony.

First, second and third place trophies will be awarded to the top middle school, high school and college bands; outstanding soloists will also be recognized.

Schneller encourages the public to attend the jazz festival. Those interested can enjoy the daytime performances of the competing schools for free, and tickets are available to purchase for each evening show.

“It is a great way to celebrate music here in Huntsville,” Schneller said. “We are hoping to generate a lot of interest because we are offering a really first rate product; our students are playing at the top of their game and have a lot to share. We really want to keep the support of our community.”

Schneller is hoping to receive greater support in the future from donors who will help create an endowment that will allow SHSU to expand the festival to three days.

“We could bring in more recording artists and really grow the festival and jazz education at SHSU,” Schneller said. “It’s great for recruiting and keeping jazz alive, and it will allow us to further share this unique American art form that we have.”

Since Schneller joined the SHSU faculty in 2008, the SHSU Jazz Ensemble has recorded three CDs, one with Watrous. Two of his students, Robby Yarber, in 2012, and Brian Fincher, in 2013, also have been awarded spots as lead trumpet players in the Disney All American Jazz Band.

“In a very short amount of time, we are reaching for the stars, doing great things, working our tails off, and loving every minute of it,” Schneller said.

Tickets are available at the GPAC Box Office at 936.294.2339 or online at shsu.edu/boxoffice.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $5 for students.

For more information on the SHSU Bill Watrous Jazz Festival or SHSU’s jazz program, contact Schneller at 936.294.1381.




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