Award-winning jazz ensembles prepare for concert, festival


Photo courtesy of Megan Spurlock

Director of Jazz Ensembles Steve Roach leads his band at Capistrano Hall in rehearsal for the Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival in this undated file photo. Roach and his students will participate in the 2018 Next Generation Jazz Festival from March 9-11.

The Sacramento State jazz ensembles are holding their first concert of the semester just days before competing as finalists in the College Big Band Division of the 2018 Next Generation Jazz Festival in Monterey.

The first concert of the semester will be held at 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 1 in the Capistrano Concert Hall, and the jazz festival takes place from March 9-11.

The jazz ensembles have collected and continue to search for more accolades, according to Javier Ramirez, a senior member of the ensembles and a music major with a jazz concentration.

“At the Monterey Jazz Festival, they only accept heavy hitters,” Ramirez said. “That’s really noteworthy … it has become increasingly competitive, so I’m very proud.”

The ensembles took home third place at the 2017 Next Generation Jazz Festival as well as first at the 2017 Reno Jazz Festival.

Getting into the music program at Sac State requires some auditioning, but senior music education major Megan Spurlock said that Steve Roach, the director of jazz studies, “keeps it a very relaxed environment.”

“A lot of auditions are high-stress, high-pressure, but Steve makes everyone feel really comfortable,” Spurlock said. “You just walk in, you play, you improvise, and he feels out your playing.”

To get into the jazz program, Roach said it takes “a love and passion for jazz, developing skills and improvisation.”

The jazz ensembles include a wide range of ages and experience levels, and while Ramirez and Spurlock remain as some of the older students in the program, their relationships with new members are positive.

Spurlock recalled her start with the program.

“I was in that place where I was the kid and everyone else was the big dogs, but everyone was so welcoming that it wasn’t really an issue, and I try to do the same,” Spurlock said. “We don’t want anyone feeling like ‘Oh, I’m the weak link.’ We want everyone to feel equally important in the group.”

Ramirez spoke highly of the music program as a whole.

“I think everyone’s pulling their own weight, and for anyone that’s very new to the genre — especially the string quartet that we’re adding — they’re learning a lot everyday.

“It’s still the best value in the nation. The faculty are superb and world-class, and that’s very clear amongst the student body.”

One of the younger faculty members in the jazz program, Gaw Vang Williams, the director of vocal jazz ensembles, struggled to cite many challenges, saying, “it’s been nothing but support from the director of the school of music and the director of jazz studies.”

Roach said that the ensembles have developed a special camaraderie.

“It’s like we’re one big family,” Roach said. “It’s a lot like a football team or a basketball team. You share a life together through music. We share a commonality with our love of music, and we all help each other grow and learn.”

Tickets for the jazz ensembles’ first concert can be purchased at Capistrano Hall on March 1, the night of the concert. Prices range from $10 for general admission, $7 for seniors and $5 for students to free entry for Sac State music students.