Repertoire selection is the most important job of any director. Great repertoire can culminate and demonstrate of all of the learning that has taken place during rehearsals. It should showcase the strengths of the ensemble and challenge the players to grow in areas where they may be less comfortable.
April is Jazz Appreciation Month. It is also Mathematics Awareness Month and National Poetry Month, among others. Why should we choose to celebrate and appreciate jazz instead of trying to solve quadratic limericks or prove iambic pentameter?
As a uniquely American creation and something that has influenced music, visual arts, and society at large, I believe jazz deserves an honored seat at the head table of the artistic bounty.
Conducting a jazz ensemble is a contradiction in terms for some. Many of the bands that we study, respect, and admire feature no conductor at all. The only “conducting” might be the lead alto player cutting off the final chord. Most professional big bands are not conducted in the traditional sense, although modern bandleaders such as Maria Schneider and John Clayton are very animated conductors.
Jazz festivals are terrific opportunities for bands to travel, perform, and bond. The best festivals provide a high-quality performance experience along with insightful teaching. Whether the festival is competitive or not, the band will be playing for judges or clinicians tasked with listening critically and offering comments and suggestions for improvement.