Ventura Breeze article

Ventura Music Festival selects
student jazz competition winners

by Tim Pompey

Ventura Music Festival Jazz competitionThe Ventura Music Festival selected a winner from its program of five performers during its annual Student Jazz Competition on Sunday, January 16 at the Laurel Theater in downtown Ventura.

The finalists were selected from a group of 18 entries and played live before a panel of judges. This year the winner was Rachel Flowers, a 17-year-old student from Hueneme High School who impressed both the judges and audience with a melodic piano performance of the John Coltrane tune “Naima.”

Asked about her selection, Flowers recalled: “I had a jam session and played it and then I recorded it. I heard him (Coltrane) with his pianist McCoy Tyner with vibes and bass and drums and I decided to play it like that.”

Flowers parents were overjoyed by their daughter’s performance. “It’s very exciting,” said Flower’s mother Jeanie. “All these kids work so hard and they’re so talented.” Her father Danny was equally impressed. “The more she plays,” he said, “the more her maturity catches up with her skills. The more I hear her, the more I well up.”

As the winner, Flowers received a five hundred-dollar scholarship check and will have an opportunity to be featured with Arturo Sandoval during the Ventura Music Festival’s Latin Jazz Concert on Saturday, February 12, 8:00 P.M. at the Ventura County Fairgrounds at Seaside Park.

In addition to Flowers, two other finalists were selected as winners. 2nd place went to saxophonist Jacob Scesney from the Idyllwild Arts Academy and 3rd place went to fellow sax player Tanner Dawson from Moorpark High School. Scesney played a rousing version of “The Eternal Triangle” by Sonny Stitt. Dawson played a rhythmic version of “Recorda Me” by Joe Henderson.

According to Mary Braitman, president-elect of the Festival’s Music Education Outreach Committee, the Student Jazz Competition is part of the Festival’s broader outreach to schools and music students. In addition to its high school competition, the Festival provides a program called “Music in the Schools” to elementary schools. For middle school students, a performer is brought in from the Festival itself.

Noted drummer Charles Levin was one of the key Education Outreach committee members who pushed to include live performances as part of the competition. Levin, whose band CODA accompanied the student performers, was excited this year by the quality of the performances. “I thought it went great,” he said. “They played their hearts out and played at a highly professional level.”

He believes the competition helps to carry on a strong jazz tradition. “It’s heartwarming” he said, “because there is always a new scene coming up to play jazz. As long as someone is studying, it will carry on.”

Levin supports the competition through his financial support and by bringing in an outstanding panel of judges. This year they included jazz pianist Jonathan Cooper, film score producer Eddie Arkin, and trombonist Craig Woods.

Four of the five finalists who appeared in the student competition will perform again at the Ventura Music Festival’s fundraising dinner concert on Monday, February 7, from 6:00-9:30 p.m. at the Sidecar Restaurant in Ventura. The event is free but there is a suggested donation at the door. Reservations are suggested and can be made at (805) 643-7433.

Tickets for both the Arturo Sandoval Latin Jazz Concert and the Ventura Music Festival’s entire 2011 concert series can be purchased at www.venturamusicfestival.org.

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