WEST POINT -- A growing interest in jazz musicianship at the junior high level was evident at Davis School District's Junior High Jazz Festival this week.
While the majority of jazz band programs have traditionally started at the high school level, more and more junior highs are getting with the program.
Eight junior high school jazz bands, totaling more than 100 students, gathered at West Point High to pay homage to this uniquely American art form. The groups were adjudicated by a panel of three professional jazz musicians who topped off the event with their own performance.
Tyler Peterson, a West Point Junior High ninth-grader and tenor saxophone player, said the appeal of jazz is the increased opportunity for solos.
"The solos are awesome," Tyler said. "It's a very important part of learning to play music ... the chance to express yourself."
But most of the junior high jazz programs are hard-won. In most cases, the classes are held before or after regular school classes -- a testament to the students' dedication.
"Kids have so many other avenues to explore, but some of them really want to do this," said Richard Siegel, Centerville Junior High band teacher. "It gives them more practice time, and it also gives them so much more ... and it helps with their classes, increases brain activity. And it's fun."
The guest judges were Dr. Don Keipp, of Weber State University, on drums, bassist Lars Yorgason, of Utah State University Faculty Jazz Combo, and professional saxophonist David Halliday. They were accompanied by West Point band teacher Christopher Stubbs.
Stubbs said the chance for the students to hear each other as well as professional musicians is key to their success.
"It's all about listening," Stubbs said. "They can hear what it's supposed to sound like. I can say the same thing every day, but when it comes from someone else, it's great."