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Prairie State College’s 26th Annual Jazz Fest

Lee Edwards | 2/28/2014, 4:59 p.m.
On Friday, Prairie State College (PSC), 202 S. Halsted St., held its 26th Annual Jazz Fest with evening performances that ...
Student musicans from Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School in Harvey, IL performed timeless jazz songs for their performances at Prairie State College’s 26th Annual Jazz Fest. Lee Edwards

On Friday, Prairie State College (PSC), 202 S. Halsted St., held its 26th Annual Jazz Fest with evening performances that took place at the Conference Center Auditorium on the main campus. The culminating event of the two-day Jazz Fest, featured performances from local jazz artists and local schools. The festival lasted Thursday, February 20 to Friday, February 21.

“I’ve been here many, many years and each year, it’s just wonderful to see all the different schools and the different students because of the excitement,” said President of Prairie State College Terry Winfrey. “The end result, seeing this and the few selected, that’s awesome, it’s just so cool to see.”

Before one of the performances at Prairie State College’s 26th Annual Jazz Fest, Orbert Davis (left) spoke to the audience about the joy he experienced working with the students.

Before one of the performances at Prairie State College’s 26th Annual Jazz Fest, Orbert Davis (left) spoke to the audience about the joy he experienced working with the students.

PSC Performing Arts Coordinator, Valerie Nicholson, the originator of the Jazz Fest, wanted to provide the south suburban Chicago community with a unique annual music festival where local youth would both perform with and learn from professional musicians

“We started with four local bands that play at local schools,” explained Nicholson. “This year we have 23 bands that are playing. [I] thought that this might be a nice opportunity to have an impact on our youth.”

During the Fest, each band played on PSC’s campus and then clinicians taught thereafter. The clinicians provided musical lessons, suggestions, anecdotes, and historical perspectives for the benefit of all the students. Only local elementary, middle and high school age students are asked to take part in the festival.

This year, the clinicians were Orbert Davis, trumpet; Ed Petersen, tenor saxophone; Valerie Nicholson, piano; Larry Gray, bass; and Ernie Adams, drums.

Davis has been a part of the Jazz Fest for over 16 years and counting.

“I always say that Prairie State festival is like community,” said Davis. “It’s not just about [the students] becoming musicians but seeing them doing incredible things; the music is shaping their lives and that is what I’m proud to be a part of. [Jazz] is our music, its American music; it’s the only indigenous form of American music. You have to embrace it, Jazz never gets old; it’s about an individual’s personality so as these students discover Jazz they are the ones that are taking Jazz forward.”

One of the students Davis helped move forward to a career in music is Roosevelt Griffin, a former participant in Jazz Fest. For the past 10 years, Griffin has served as the Jazz Director for Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School in Harvey, IL.

Griffin, a product of Harvey, brought his students to take part in the Jazz Fest. He recalled his time being involved in the Jazz Fest and why his students participate.

“As a student, we would come to the [Prairie State College Jazz Fest] where we get mentored by Orbert Davis and the other musicians and they inspired me back. When I became a teacher, I brought my students here,” said Griffin. “This is the single event where the clinicians treat music as a lifestyle. It’s not about being the best. Whether the kids are good or not so good the clinicians take them to the next level. They leave inspired and with a sense of accomplishment.”

Griffin, who has been the band director for the last 10 years, stated that the Harvey 152 Band Program is the oldest band program in the state of Illinois.

In addition to the festival, there was also an art exhibit available, “Metaphorical,” available for jazz fest attendees to visit before the performance and during intermission. The art gallery is in the room adjacent to the auditorium and will be open for display until Thursday, March 6.

For more information about upcoming Prairie State College events visit prairirestate.edu.