RBHS hosts second annual jazz festival

Alyssa Sykuta

Jazz band director Bob Thalhuber rehearses the band for their performance at the MU/Rock Bridge Jazz Festival Feb. 2.
Jazz band director Bob Thalhuber rehearses the band for their performance at the MU/Rock Bridge Jazz Festival Feb. 2. Photo by Alyssa Sykuta

For the second year in a row, RBHS will host the MU/Rock Bridge Jazz Festival on Saturday, Feb. 2. The festival is the result of collaboration between RBHS band director Steve Mathews and University of Missouri–Columbia Director of Jazz Studies, Arthur White, and will involve 21 bands from 14 schools. Mathews and White have been planning the festival since August, sending out invitations to bands from around the state and publicizing the event online.
The festival is “just about being able to offer something educational for other schools,” Mathews said, “and it gives our own students an experience of the responsibility of hosting something and being in charge of something. And it’s good collaboration with the University, too.”
Though the event takes a lot of organization, senior Clark Gribble, bari-saxophone player for the jazz ensemble, enjoys the opportunity to host a jazz festival. A member of the jazz band last year, Gribble helped in the sight-reading/clinic room, where bands go after performing for adjudicators. He looks forward most to watching the visiting bands perform but also enjoys the respect that comes with hosting the event.
“It’s just kind of cool to work the booth and get to watch all the bands and kind of see how other jazz festivals are in the area,” Gribble said. “And this year and last year it seemed like a lot of [the bands that came] kind of looked up to the Rock Bridge jazz program because it’s been doing really well for the past few years. So, it’s been really cool to kind of have them on our own turf instead of just going to theirs.”
Jazz ensemble director Steve Mathews conducts the group in one of their more upbeat tunes. The ensemble will play a concert in the evening at the festival on Saturday, but will not actually compete. Photo by Alyssa Sykuta
Jazz ensemble director Steve Mathews conducts the group in one of their more upbeat tunes. The ensemble will play a concert in the evening at the festival on Saturday, but will not actually compete. Photo by Alyssa Sykuta

Because RBHS hosts the event, students in the RBHS jazz band and jazz ensemble are responsible for welcoming the visiting bands. Mathews and assistant band director Bob Thalhuber assign students various jobs in order to make sure things run smoothly. Junior Andrew Selva, trumpet for the jazz ensemble, participated in the event last year as well, acting as a host for the Francis Howell North High School jazz band. Selva said there are many jobs the RBHS students are in charge of, most of which include directing bands in which direction to go.
“There are always one or two students that are assigned to each band,” Selva said. “So we lead them around, we take them to their practice room, their warm up room and then we take them on stage when they need to go. And then students also have to work backstage and move all the equipment back and forth for each band because each band is kind of a different size.”
At jazz festivals, each band performs for a set of adjudicators, who will then provide the band with a clinic and tips on how to improve. Though the RBHS jazz band will take part in the festival on Saturday to receive feedback, the RBHS jazz ensemble will not. Mathews said this is because of the ensemble’s recent performances at the Jazz Education Network international conference in Atlanta, as well as at the Missouri Music Educators Association conference this past month. The ensemble will, however, perform a half-hour concert at 6:30 p.m. after the competing bands have finished.

Mr. Thalhuber wants [the jazz band] to be adjudicated and critiqued, and we kind of feel like with the jazz ensemble, with all their recent stuff that they’ve been doing, for them to have a clinic would not [be worth it],” Mathews said. “We’re just going to be the host band and then play in the evening a concert with the University [Jazz Band].”

This festival is the first of two the RBHS jazz program intends to partake in this year. Their next destination is Drury University in Springfield, Mo. on March 2. However, whether in the familiar auditorium of RBHS or a theater three hours away, Selva said the experiences had and lessons learned at the jazz festivals are valuable, no matter where the bands are playing.
“All festivals in general, whether you’re hosting it or not, it’s really fun to just meet with your clinicians and they can help you a lot,” Selva said, “and you learn a lot of new things about how to change your style, how to sound better.”
By Alyssa Sykuta