Making The Grade, With Jazz

Making The Grade, With Jazz
JAS Jazz in Schools, Dist. 8 Honor Bands, Feb. 6, 2016

Making The Grade, With Jazz

JAS Aspen’s education program supports the western slope’s young musicians with its JAS Honor Jazz Band & Choir performance this Saturday, February 4, at Roaring Fork High School.

When you think of JAS Aspen, you probably think about the Labor Day Festival or the June shows, of big headliners and the fabulous food they serve in the VIP section. What a lot of people don’t realize is the tremendous outreach the organization has with kids through JAS Ed, sponsoring a wide variety of programs for students state-wide.

One of those programs is the JAS Honor Jazz Band & Choir, taking place today and tomorrow, February 3-4, at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale. AspenRealLife cruised down valley to check out the all-day rehearsals, where over 100 kids from all over the western slope gathered to practice under the guidance of some of the state’s best faculty from accredited music programs at CU, DU, and Mesa State College. Over the next two days they’ll get to participate in intensive jazz training, including instructional workshops and rehearsals, with a faculty of professional musicians provided by JAS.  

“It’s not really competitive, but that’s the great thing about it. It’s not like anything else they do,” says Chris Banks, who has taken the helm as Director for Education Programs for JAS Aspen for the last 15 years. “When they play sports, they don’t go to play with other schools, they go to play against other schools. So it’s really an opportunity to play with other kids from your large district, and to play with other players that are as good or better than what you’re used to playing with in your school.”

The kids submit an audition tape in early December and are sent music sheets in advance to study. But they come together for the first time today and have only two days to practice together as a group. For many, Banks says, the mere idea of performing on stage in a bigger venue with students from other schools forces them to step up their game.

Music floods the halls of Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale as rehearsals are conducted in four separate rooms, according to their level. A shaggy-haired freshman dressed in black skinny jeans, black sneakers and a black button-down shirt wags his head as he blows the sax, and it’s easy to imagine him 20 years from now, on a stage somewhere, be it a jazz club, concert hall, or even back here in the Roaring Fork Valley for a JAS Aspen show. It’s clear that the conductors, all professional musicians from accredited schools, are having a lot of fun with their young cohorts and Banks says some use it as an opportunity to scout students for their respective college programs.

“I don’t care if you play the wrong notes,” says one of the conductors. “I just want you to have some fun.”

JAS Education programs like these are more important than ever, says Banks, as funding for music programs in public schools continues to suffer and music directors come and go. It’s the support from JAS Aspen that makes experiences like this—clearly one designed to both educate and inspire—possible.

“The Honor Jazz program offers a great opportunity for students to meet other like-minded musicians and form friendships that last for years,” says Andrea Beard, JAS Senior Vice President. “JAS is extremely proud to be able to support the growth of the student musicianship and overall understanding and appreciation of jazz.”

For more information on JAS music education and performance programming please contact Jazz Aspen Snowmass at 920-4996 or visit  



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