The sounds of jazz music filled several venues around Pittsburg Friday as musicians from several states came to town for Pittsburg State University's 40th Annual Jazz Festival.
40 years ago, Russell Jones, chair of PSU's Department of Music, brought together 13 bands to perform and be assigned ratings, and the event has grown ever since, maxing out at around 60 bands in recent years.
"We're at 60," said university professor of music Bob Kehle, who coordinates the festival. "We're at capacity."
Kehle said the festival allows the bands to perform and to receive a rating, but they also receive feedback from the judges and the opportunity to listen to other bands from all over the region.
"They're high school, junior high and community college bands playing about half an hour," Kehle said. "Judges will give them a rating - there’s no winners. "They’ll give them a rating and comments and then they’ll work with the band."
Kehle said the judges are jazz experts from all over the nation, and are here to listen to and encourage bands from schools of all sizes.
"From a school size, we have schools like St. Paul, which is 1 A up to schools that are 6A. We’ll have bands that are very strong with 6-8 kids up to a standard size band which is about 20 kids."
"Lots of times it doesn’t make a difference between a big or small school." Kehle continued. "Quality is quality."
He said the opportunity to play, hear others play and to listen is a great learning experience for students, regardless of the type of band they are in or their school size.
"This is a way for them to get out and play for each other. They get a chance to hear what the judges are saying to that band," Kehle said. "It’s also good for the kids because they don’t necessarily hear these other groups and what they sound like, but here they do. It’s great education. They really are learning to be critical listeners, which is actually a national standard for music."
The day of learning ends with a capstone concert that this year, as in many years, features a Grammy Award-winning artist.
The Bob Mintzer Big Band performed the evening concert, and students who participated in the day’s events had the opportunity to stick around and hear the pros play.
They also got to celebrate a special recognition of the man whose dream is going strong 40 years later.
Russell Jones soloed on the alto sax in a performance of Pat Williams’ "Oh Yeah Ballad" and was honored for his time as the chairman of PSU’s music department by the university and with a proclamation of March 7, 2014 as Russell Jones Day by the City of Pittsburg.