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Style Magazine

Elite Ensemble

Jan 06, 2011 04:14AM ● By Style

Photo by Dante Fontana

The Folsom High School Jazz Band is one of the shining stars in the area’s music programs, and a seemingly limitless talent stream has kept it going strong for decades.

“The jazz group wins a lot of awards and national recognition, and there are a lot of interested students,” says Curtis Gaesser, Folsom High School’s Music Director. “The students work really hard for it.” Gaesser, who has been with the program for the past 27 years, says the students have so much talent – many have been going to tutors for years – that his job is more like that of a band manager than a teacher, though he does of course instruct as well.

None of the students in the program are newcomers to jazz or instruments. A strong Middle School Jazz Band Program plants the seeds for future success at the Folsom High School Jazz Band. “We don’t take beginners,” Gaesser says. “Jazz is like a fourth-year language course. There’s no way they can make it unless there’s some groundwork. They have to have a foundation.” Students new to playing instruments always have the traditional marching band option – which many of the jazz band students are also a part of.
The students’ experience with the type of music allows them to perform at a high level, and in the past eight years, the program has played in Europe four times – in countries including France, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy. One highlight for Gaesser was the performance at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy. “We played for thousands of people,” Gaesser says.

If you’d like the chance to see the jazz band perform, you’ll get the opportunity to do so later this month, when the band hosts the 22nd Annual Folsom High School Jazz Festival on January 29. “You’ll see more than 130 groups in one day competing,” Gaesser says. “We’ll have more than 50 judges, professionals and professors, from all over the country.”

The program is so big that its 112 students had to be broken into four smaller groups, based on skill level. The top-level band – the “A Band” – performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival last year. “There were 12 bands and eight choirs from all across the country. Our band placed in the top three, and our choir won,” says Gaesser. Participating in so many events is part of what makes the program so successful, but Gaesser says another aspect that helps round out the students’ experience is the exposure they get to jazz musicians throughout the year. Gaesser says he makes sure they get a fair amount of guest speakers and are able to see performances as a group, which takes the program beyond just being another class. “They’re really into this,” Gaesser says.

For those who want to see the band perform, most of the concerts played at Folsom High School are free, and Gaesser promises a good show.

For more information or to buy tickets for the Folsom High School Jazz Festival, visit