March 11 , 2008

Big things ahead for Sac State’s big band

Jazz Ensemble Jazz Ensemble

Sacramento State’s big band will swing into Monterey next month where the Jazz Ensemble I will compete with groups from across the nation for a spot in the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival.

The 18-member ensemble will take part in the annual Next Generation Festival, April 3-6. Sac State’s jazz men and women will face-off against competitors from five other schools in the College Big Band Division. If they’re victorious, the musicians will be invited to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival, Sept. 19-21.

What was it like getting selected as one of the six best big bands in the nation?

“It was awesome,” says saxophonist Joe Berry. “The competition and caliber of players are pretty high. It shows that hard work pays off.”

Sacramento State won its spot in the competition after submitting a CD for review to faculty at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, says music professor Steve Roach, director of the University’s Jazz Studies program.

The other competitors are CSU Long Beach, CSU Northridge, Central Washington University, Florida International University and the University of Michigan. Many of their jazz programs have much longer histories than does Sacramento State, Roach says. “It’s an honor just to get there. I’m thrilled to be a part of that line-up.”

The bands perform one after another before a panel of judges, and the winner is announced about 20 minutes after the last group performs, Roach says.

One of the Jazz Ensemble players already has some experience in this arena. Trombone player Sam Griffith competed at the festival in the high school division all four years he attended Monterey High School. He’s also worked on the festival’s production crew and had some of the judges as teachers.

Both students are optimistic about their chances.

The band already sounds good and there’s still a month to prepare, Griffith says. “I definitely like our odds.”

Berry notes that the group has played one of their competition pieces, “You Must Believe in Spring,” in public several times. And the ensemble will get even more experience before the public when it performs with saxophonist Dave Pietro on March 13.

The invitation demonstrates how far Sac State’s jazz program has come since the concentration in that field was established in 2001, Roach says.

Griffith is completing his graduate work at the University after attending New School University in Manhattan. “When I met professor Roach, I realized the master’s program would be a good fit for me,” Griffith says.

“I just figured, study with the best,” Berry adds.

And jazz itself continues to attract the kind of musicians who like to take chances. “It’s like the only music in the western world where the highest risk yields the greatest results,” Berry says.

For more information on the University’s Music department and jazz program, call (916) 278-5155 or visit www.csus.edu/music/. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.