High school students get the beat at jazz fest

By William P. Thompson

Two Clovis High School jazz ensembles got some tips Friday from Los Angeles-based trombonist Scott Wakefield at Eastern New Mexico University’s jazz clinic. Whitfield, a recording artist for Summit Records who has worked with jazz legend Nat Adderley, was in town for ENMU’s Jazz Fest.

The jazz fest is an annual two-day event for ENMU. Professional jazz musicians stop by each year. Bert Dalton performed at Buchanan Hall Thursday, and the ENMU Jazz Ensemble performed music by Whitfield and Pat Metheny among others Friday evening and the ENMU Jazz Combo played tunes by Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus.

Whitfield played along with the ENMU Jazz Ensemble and showed up earlier at a clinic for Gallup and Clovis high school students and listened to the Clovis jazz ensembles play two songs each inside the university’s theater center. He had praise for both ensembles, but also told the bassists and percussionists to look at each other more when playing to keep the “groove” going, and he told horn players in both ensembles to let it all hang out.

“Don’t be afraid to fill the horn with air,” he said. “This is jazz. It’s fun.”

Clovis High School sophomore Spencer Yen brought his bass trombone to the clinic. Yen and his fellow Jazz Ensemble One members played a song called “Cut to The Chase” and a song called “Chicken Scratch”.

Yen improvised a bass trombone solo during “Chicken Scratch” and Whitfield was pleased afterwards, saying that bass trombone solos in jazz are something he’d like to see more of. Yen said improvisation is always risky.

“You don’t know (if it will work),” he said. “You just go for it.”
Whitfield liked Clovis High School’s commitment to jazz.

“It just blows me away that a school of 1,200 kids has two jazz ensembles,” he said.

Jazz Ensemble One director Keith Sacane said the Clovis students are genuinely interested in jazz. Not only do they practice for the regular high school band, they devote an extra hour and a half once a week to practice jazz.

“They just work really hard,” Sacane said. “A lot of them listen to just about everything. They love jazz music.”

Jazz Ensemble One trombonist Brian Schuler said with jazz it’s all about the rhythm.

“The syncopation of the beat is much different than other styles of music,” Schuler said. “It’s attractive.”

Schuler and Yen said they plan to minor in music in college, each planning careers in medicine, but they said life as a professional musician would be fun if it could be managed.
Whitfield told the Clovis ensembles that the life of a professional musician takes dedication.

“You have to eat, sleep breathe and live music,” Whitfield told the students. “If you really want it, I say ‘Go for it.’”

The students attended the free concert Friday evening in which Whitfield played along with the ENMU Jazz Ensemble, directed by Chris Beaty. ENMU’s Jazz Fest is key to getting youths interested in jazz in southeastern New Mexico, according to Beaty.

“This is the busiest two days of the year for me,” Beaty said. “This is the only organized jazz event in southeastern New Mexico.”