Juneau-Douglas High School students sings “Stormy Weather” as she plays the bass at the Sitka Jazz Festival (Clara Miller| Capital City Weekly).

Juneau-Douglas High School students sings “Stormy Weather” as she plays the bass at the Sitka Jazz Festival (Clara Miller| Capital City Weekly).

Sitka Jazz Festival brings in young talent, professional musicians

For 22 years now, the Sitka Jazz Festival has been bringing together student bands from across Alaska and musicians from around the U.S. to perform in Sitka.

The festival welcomes both beginners and professionals. Professional jazz musicians perform together for the public and students, and teach the students jazz history and theory, hosting clinics on vocal skills and instruments. The students put these skills into practice through public concerts.

One of these was the student concert Friday, Feb. 3, at the Sitka Performing Arts Center. It was opened by Sitka’s own Blatchley Middle School Jazz Choir, directed by Mike Kernin (also the festival director) with synchronized finger snaps and the repetitive croons of “Killer Joe, Killer Joe.” Each student took a turn at the mic to practice their scatting (vocal improvisation). Many chose wordless singing, but two boys let loose with “Sponge Bob, Sponge Bob,” and “sassy walrus,” before the whole choir signed off “Bye, Joe.”

Next came the Ketchikan High School Vocal Jazz. Two of the performers had discussed the festival prior to the show – Luke Dossett, a baritone vocalist, and Glenn Cousins, a tenor vocalist, both members of Ketchikan High School Vocal Jazz.

“It’s kind of inspiring to see people who are professionals, some of them even nominated for Grammys, coming out and seeing how far people can take [jazz],” Dossett said, referring to the Tierney Sutton Band, which won a Grammy for collaborative arrangement. “Learning from them is a huge opportunity a lot of people won’t even be able to get in their life, especially in high school.”

It’s an opportunity you have to seize, he said. Sometimes a musician will request a student to sing a solo in front of a group of unfamiliar peers.

“Be confident. Everyone is here for the same purpose, and everybody here has the same fears as you, so it’s nothing to worry about,” Dossett advised future students of the Sitka Jazz Festival. “Try to put yourself into situations you’ve never been in because this is your opportunity to do that.

Cousins said their group had been practicing at least an hour a day at school. This would be their first time at the Sitka Jazz Festival.

The students performed a slow acapella followed by more lively jazz numbers. One by one, other groups took a turn on the stage, like Blatchley Middle School Jazz Band Two, Ketchikan High School Jazz Band, Juneau-Douglas High School Jazz Band, West Valley High School Jazz Band and Thunder Mountain High School Jazz Band.

At the Guest Artist Concert, Thelonious Monk Institute played with saxophonist Bob Reynolds for “Sway,” “What She Didn’t Say,” and “Unlucky,” a song loosely based off Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”

“I turned [“Get Lucky”] inside out and upside down and darker and slower,” he told the audience before playing.

After that set, trumpeter and composer John Daversa led a big band composed of famous jazz musicians who had gathered for the Sitka Jazz Festival, like Bijon Watson who recently appeared in the Golden Globe winning “La La Land” on trumpet, as well as local Southeast Alaska musicians like John Unzicker, who directed the JDHS Jazz Band, on guitar; Unzicker performed a solo that earned him cheers and applause. Throughout the performance, Daversa would take turns between playing his trumpet, energetically conducting and sometimes standing to the side.

At intermission, a jazz fan living in Anchorage shared her thoughts.

“My hometown St. Petersburg plays some great jazz, but [the Guest Artist Concert] blows my mind today,” Jenya Anichenko, originally from Russia, said. “I didn’t expect that level, it’s really amazing, really good … I’ll make sure to bring my friends from around Alaska next year.”

• Contact Capital City Weekly staff writer Clara Miller at clara.miller@capweek.com.

Thunder Mountain High School Jazz Band guitarist gives a thumbs up to the audience after performing a solo at the Sitka Jazz Festival (Clara Miller| Capital City Weekly).

Thunder Mountain High School Jazz Band guitarist gives a thumbs up to the audience after performing a solo at the Sitka Jazz Festival (Clara Miller| Capital City Weekly).

West Valley High School Jazz Band student plays saxophone solo (Clara Miller| Capital City Weekly).

West Valley High School Jazz Band student plays saxophone solo (Clara Miller| Capital City Weekly).

Blatchley Middle School Jazz Band Two student is hidden by his tuba as he performs at the Sitka Jazz Festival (Clara Miller| Capital City Weekly).

Blatchley Middle School Jazz Band Two student is hidden by his tuba as he performs at the Sitka Jazz Festival (Clara Miller| Capital City Weekly).

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