HANFORD — Following countless hours of practice and rehearsals, local student musicians have been taking the stage to show off their musical talents at this week's California Music Educators Association Jazz Festival.

Roughly 35 local high school and middle school jazz bands from throughout the Valley started performing Thursday and finish up Saturday at Hanford High’s Presentation Center.

Hanford West High School band director Lisa Butts said the event gives students the chance to play in front of a crowd and to receive feedback from knowledgeable judges. 

Three judges give each band a numerical score from one to five (one being highest). The judges rate each band based on quality of sound, technique, musicality, improvisation and other factors. They also give critiques/comments on what the groups could improve on.

This year’s group of judges included Barb Catlin of Pomona College/Cal Tech, Josh Murray of Rio Americano High School and Dyne Eifertsen of American River College.

While bands are judged, it’s not a competition, Butts said. Scores aren’t posted and only members of each band are told their score.

“You can learn to be a better player and teacher by those comments,” Butts said. “Jazz is a very particular style and the judges are selected by their expertise.”

Hanford West senior Chris Davis performed with his school’s band during the festival all four years in high school. He plays the vibraphone.

Davis said the festival gives musicians a chance to see others play and to be inspired.

“You can see what other bands do and take from that,” Davis said.

While bands aren't present for all performances, Davis said he was able to see three or four different bands and was impressed with some, especially those from the Clovis and Tulare areas.

Davis said his favorite part of playing jazz was the wide variety of emotions that can be conveyed.

“Some songs can be really cheerful,” Davis said. “Others can tell a story of a life event.”

 Davis said that after each year's festival, he was able to take judges' comments and use them to improve. 

“They let us know that it’s OK to experiment and get out of your comfort zone,” Davis said. “That’s what really helps you get better.”

Davis said he liked the experience of playing at the festival.

“It’s a fun thing to do,” he said. “It’s nice to do all that practice and finally play for someone.”

The event will end Saturday afternoon with performances from the Tulare-Kings Music Educators high school and middle school honor jazz bands. The concert begins at 2 p.m. with each band playing four or five pieces of music.

Members of those bands were selected from throughout the Valley after auditions and have been rehearsing over the past few weeks.

Sierra Pacific student Kavn Aulakh will be one of the musicians performing with the high school honors band.

“Because it’s the top players from the whole Valley, it’s the best of the best,” he said. “Everybody gets to show off their skills and all their skills are top notch. It’s fun because you get harder parts to learn but in the end it’s more fun to play because of it.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2431 or jbutters@HanfordSentinel.com. Follow him on twitter @jsbutters.

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