Westsylvania's goal: Spread love of jazz
EDITOR'S NOTE: Updated at 11:56 a.m. to clarify that the festival is to be held at IRMC Park at North Seventh and Water streets in Indiana.
The first Delaney Chevrolet Westsylvania Jazz and Blues Festival will be held this weekend, bringing talented jazz and blues artists from around the nation, but also bringing together local student talent.
When the guys in Dad Band, a prominent jazz quintet in Indiana, first started planning the festival, they knew they wanted some sort of student involvement.
“We started doing what we do because we want young people to gain awareness and a love of jazz,” said Dave Ferguson, of the band, who is assistant dean of the College of Fine Arts at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
That notion ended up taking two forms, he said: through having student jazz ensembles from different schools perform at the daylong festival and by having students from several schools perform together in what is called the Westsylvania All-Star High School Jazz Band.
The festival begins Saturday at IRMC Park with Dad Band performing at 10:30. Following their performance, regional high school jazz ensembles from Marion Center, Indiana and Hempfield schools will perform, with Marion Center slated to begin at 11 a.m.
Keeping in mind “Westsylvania” and the region that would have covered when it was proposed as a 14th state during the American Revolution, Ferguson began reaching out to area band directors, asking for nominations for students who could perform.
Though the process of choosing the students was driven mostly by instrumentation, Ferguson said, every band director who submitted a student was guaranteed to have at least one student in the group.
For some students whose schools do not have jazz ensembles, this was their chance to learn more about the art form.
Through the jazz band, Ferguson hopes the students will build technical proficiency and, overall, raise awareness of jazz.
“This is an American art form,” Ferguson said. “This music was born in America … and you should be able to play American music.”
Fitting, with the festival’s tagline: “Great American Music for a Great American Town.”
The Dad Band, he said, “exemplifies” the idea of lifelong learning within music, doing outreach programs in high schools as well as in IUP classes.
“We demonstrate how you don’t have to go into music to continue to have music be a part of your life,” he said. “We’ve chosen jazz as the medium through which we continue to engage with music. We want to be examples to our own children and to the kids that we hope to reach.”
Throughout the day, the festival features performances from bands and performers such as The Old Masters, the Jukehouse Bombers, The Elecromotives, The ChopShop and Sonny Landreth, the Poogie Bell Band and Sean Jones.
To Ferguson, the community should head over to the event on Saturday not only because it’s free, but also because there’s “great value in coming together for something that is as universal as music.”
Especially, he said, music that’s homegrown — American music made by Americans in western Pennsylvania.
“To me, that’s almost as patriotic as you can get — to show support, on Memorial Day weekend, for something positive that we have done as a nation that we continue to do as individuals in this region.”
2014 Westsylvania High School Jazz All-Stars:
Julia Gogol, Hempfield Area; Brittany Gaston, Marion Center; Noah Porter, Saltsburg
Jeanne Marie Stalteri, Indiana Area; Arista Barnoff, Marion Center; Aimee Kirsch, Penns Manor
Sebastian Murabito, Saltsburg
Bo Putt, Indiana Area; Nick Comito, Hempfield; Abigail Brown, United; Rachel Mangan, Apollo-Ridge; Brandon Griffith, Indiana Area
Jesse Isenberg, United; Colton Finchum, Indiana; Chris Haupt, Saltsburg; Glenn Travis, Indiana Area
Scott Mitsko, Indiana
David Hanson, Indiana