In an auditorium packed nearly to the point of overflow, people of all ages and backgrounds came to hear one of America’s most treasured arts: Jazz.

The fourth annual UCF-Orlando Jazz Festival, which took place on March 25 and 26 in the auditorium of the Nicholson School of Communication, offered the Orlando area two nights of jazz from aspiring students, seasoned professors and renowned professionals.

“I think events like this are good for the community,” said Jeff Rupert, professor and director of Jazz Studies at the UCF music department. “It’s really up to schools to bring artistic events like this to the people.”

The first night of the festival featured Grammy-nominated trumpeter Terrell Stafford, who was joined by the UCF jazz professors, a jazz outfit made up of Rupert on tenor saxophone, assistant professor Per Danielsson on piano, adjunct professor Richard Drexler on upright bass, and adjunct professor Marty Morell on drums.

The group played through a wide range of compositions, from slow, mellow tunes that rocked you back and forth to sporadic, upbeat jams that made you tap your foot and nod you head.

Opening up the show that night was the young and talented UCF All Star High School Jazztet, who paid tribute to legendary artists such as Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane.

“It’s great to see teamwork and people coming together to make it happen,” said Stafford, who is also the director of Jazz Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia. “It’s a great family atmosphere.”The following evening, the event featured Saturday Night Live musical director Lenny Pickett, who played with the UCF Jazz Ensemble I in front of an overflowing crowd of spectators.

Pickett took the crowd on a wild ride of different funk arrangements, cruising through songs while being backed up by a large horn section of UCF jazz students. Demonstrating his skill with the saxophone, Pickett soloed with great emotion and agility, hitting notes so high that the crowd stood on its feet when he finished.

Also performing that night was adjunct professor Bobby Koelble’s band the Absinthe Trio, who creates a unique blend of jazz and atmospheric electronic music.

Jeff Brzycki, a freshman business major, had a lot more motivation to go to the jazz festival besides extra credit for his popular American music class.

“I definitely felt like this was the most interesting event happening on campus,” said Brzycki, waiting for the show to start during the first night of the festival. “Jazz is one of the genres where it’s a lot easier to appreciate because you can see the skill. I’m looking forward to this.”

From Stafford’s skillful song arranging to Pickett’s extravagant solos, each night of the festival brought the audience a display of masterful jazz musicianship. Other high points of the festival were the Absinthe Trio’s ambient compositions, as well as the overall tightness of the UCF Jazz Ensemble I and UCF All Star High School Jazztet.

“The festival is terrific. The kids are incredible musicians and they’re full of energy,” said Jerry Brignola, an audience member from Fort Lauderdale whose daughter is a freshman majoring in environmental engineering.

Brignola said he prefers attending festivals such as this instead of professional concerts because of the students’ intense passion for the music.

“Professionals play shows and will constantly check their watches, waiting for their paycheck. These kids are here because they love the music,” said Brignola, who plays saxophone himself. “When you come to this festival, it’s only about the music.”

One aspect of jazz that has always been crucial is passing the music from one generation to the next. Rupert hopes that holding events such as this will keep jazz alive and encourage young people to learn this beloved style of music.

“This is America’s classical music,” said Rupert, packing up his saxophone after the first night of the festival. “With jazz, we not only try to cultivate the music, we cultivate the audience. We embrace the youth.”

Throughout both nights of the event, the crowd gave standing ovations to all of the performers and applauded whenever any player finished a solo. As the event came to an end, it was obvious that the audience, as well as the performers, had enjoyed the festival.

“I had a good time. I’m just happy to play my saxophone to tell you the truth,” Pickett said. “These guys played great so it was fun.”

Rupert told the audience that they can expect another festival next year and that everyone should look forward to the fifth annual UCF-Orlando Jazz Festival.

“I think if music can bleed into life and more people could see the democracy of what jazz music is about, I think we could all get along much better,” Stafford said. “It’s a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else.”

Source: Central Florida Future, ‘America’s classical’ plays on, by Tim Freed, contributing writer. Published: Sunday, March 27, 2011, updated: Sunday, March 27, 2011 17:03