Jazz band members, front row, left to right, Claudia Lopez, Jim Liang, Trenton Ruf and Dalton Stern practice Friday at South Medford High School. - Julia Moore / Mail Tribune

South Medford Jazz Band eager to sound right notes

After spending months practicing, the South Medford Jazz Band is ready to show its stuff, and band members will have good company when they do.

The high school band is revving up for the South Medford Jazz Celebration, scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 24, at the high school's Black Box Theatre, 1551 Cunningham Ave. Sponsored by the Medford Jazz Festival, the event also will feature the Rogue Valley All Star High School Jazz Band, the Ed Dunsavage Trio, and The Dmitri Matheny/Dave Ellis Project, featuring Ellis on tenor saxophone and Matheny on flugelhorn.

"We've been working on our music for like two months," said South Medford Band Director Yoko Kan. "We're going to open up the concert."

Ellis and Matheny will provide workshops for area music students the day before the concert. "These master classes are like group private lessons for these students," said Kan, adding that the lessons in jazz concepts and jazz music theory are valuable to her students — some of whom have bright futures in music ahead of them but not much musical past behind them.

"They're still high-schoolers. They've only had music in their lives for like six, seven, eight years," Kan said.

Pointing to the guest musicians, who have careers spanning decades, she said it helps her students "realize that there isn't a top."

This year's Jazz Celebration is the fourth for Kan, and she shares credit with Jodee Hollopeter, South Medford's band-parent president and event co-organizer. This will the second year at the celebration for Ed Dunsavage of the Siskiyou Institute, a nonprofit organization that participates in the Artists in Schools Program, which brings professional musicians to Rogue Valley classrooms.

"It's been very well received by the teachers and the students," Dunsavage said of the program. "Elementary school teachers will say, 'These kids have never heard a live band before,' so it's great to be able to provide that opportunity."

Ellis' musical career began at age 10, with highlights that include two 1999 California Music Awards, one for Outstanding Jazz Album and one for Outstanding Jazz Artist in Northern California. He has a new recording titled "State of Mind" on jazz record label Milestone.

Matheny attended the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and graduated from Berklee College of Music in 1989. He went on to become a student of famed jazz musician Art Farmer, made his New York debut at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall and has toured internationally.

In addition to strong careers performing and recording music, the guest musicians are experienced music educators, said Dunsavage, adding that Matheny "ran the education department for the San Francisco Jazz Festival."

"It's a unique opportunity for young high-school students to have an opportunity to work one-on-one with seasoned performers who have been out there making a living at it," Dunsavage said.

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