High School All Stars a Highlight of San Jose Jazz’s New Mission

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Following a competitive audition process, over 20 performances, including 13 performances in the last six months, the San Jose Jazz High School All Stars, under the direction of Dr. Aaron Lington, will open the Cisco Bella Mia Stage Saturday and the Next Gen Stage Sunday. They are sure to wow with their accomplished chops. A lesser known fact may be that these All Stars are at the core of San Jose Jazz’s greater mission.

An in-demand group that plays events and locales that include San Jose Jazz Winter Fast, the San Jose Museum of Art and the Opera House in Los Gatos, the San Jose Jazz High School All Stars are great ambassadors not only for the jazz art form but for San Jose Jazz at large. In January 2011, San Jose Jazz decided to re-organize its goals, shifting its main focus to education. Along with Progressions, Summer Jazz Camp and the Next Gen Stage at Summer Fest, the San Jose Jazz High School All-Stars is part of a four-tier plan to inspire the next generation of local jazz talent through immersive educational experiences, including live performance.

The High School All Stars Program, now entering its 14th year, is San Jose Jazz’s year-round, audition-based education and performance initiative. The program’s goal is to help students “achieve a mastery of performance and improvisation techniques while advancing their knowledge of music theory, arranging, composition, performance and jazz history.” Once students are accepted into the audition-based program, they begin rehearsing once a week with Program Director Aaron Lington, who is also Coordinator of Jazz Studies at San Jose State University. These rehearsals prepare students for  performances at Summer Fest, Winter Fest and more.

Lington may be a new addition to the All Stars team – he was brought on last November – but his extended experience with jazz in an academic setting has made him a great fit for the organization. He previously taught at Texas Wesleyan University, the University of North Texas, and the University of Houston. A member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), The National Association for Music Education (MENC) and the California Music Educators Association (CMEA), Lington has adjudicated over 20 jazz festivals in the Western United States.

A firm believer in music education, Lington maintains that programs rooted in performance are essential to the artistic growth of students. “You have to have these educational outreach programs to not only give [students] an exposure to jazz but to give them outlets for performance and for learning about the music,” offers Lington.

“What we do know is that students who are actively engaged in these kinds of activities do better, and they’re better people,” explains San Jose Jazz Vice Chair, Dr. Robert Griffin. “San Jose Jazz makes a tremendous difference in the lives of the people who are involved in the youth education programs. The environment is friendly and supportive. There are experienced musicians who are teaching these young students to play music.”

Hiring renowned working musicians as educators is one way San Jose Jazz works to inspire its students. Younger musicians learn by playing in a free and open environment with some of the best jazz musicians in the world. By gaining exposure to the improvisational element of jazz in this manner, students enrolled in any of San Jose Jazz’s education programs fall in love with jazz as an art form through first-hand experience. Similar to the High School All Stars, San Jose Summer Jazz Camp utilizes this same perspective by bringing in world-renowned talents for a two-week intensive to help train some of this region’s most gifted young musicians.

Saxophonist and Hedley Jazz Jam co-founder Oscar Pangilinan echoes Griffin’s sentiments, stressing that music education builds a great foundation for success in any field. “Music gives us a skill set that is very universal. You can become a great doctor, a lawyer . . . all with basic skill sets that you learn by being a musician,” Pangilinan says. “I also think that music is a way for us to teach traditions and teach culture. When we teach music, we don’t just teach notes on the page or teach how to play an instrument. We actually pass on traditions from generations past.”

This student-mentor relationship is important not just to San Jose Jazz but to the jazz art form as a whole. In a world where jazz doesn’t have the same foothold it once did in popular culture, mentorships are one of the ways jazz continues to build a passionate following. Through programs like San Jose Summer Jazz Camp and High School All Stars, San Jose Jazz works not only to provide a consistent outgrowth of successful local talent but gives talented players the chance to pass on the legacy of jazz, a true American art form.

The San Jose Jazz High School All Stars will be performing 12pm Saturday on the Cisco Bella Mia Stage and 12pm Sunday on the Next Gen Stage. Plan on attending either set? Connect with others who will be joining you by commenting on our Facebook post!