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Final Sweet Sweet Jazz concert set for Thomas Jefferson HS

| Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

With the new $95 million Thomas Jefferson High School set to open next summer, TJ Arts will hold its final Sweet Sweet Jazz festival Oct. 15 in the auditorium of the current high school.

“This will be the last one for a variety of reasons,” said Karen Suszynski, chairperson and founder of TJ Arts, a nonprofit whose mission is to support the arts for the 3,000 students who attend school in the West Jefferson Hills School District. TJ Arts is also the sponsor of Sweet Sweet Jazz. “But, it's mostly because the high school is changing and the auditorium is larger.”

“We will do something next year,” she added.

The upcoming Sweet Sweet Jazz Festival, which is being held for the eighth consecutive October, will again feature Thomas Jefferson alumni and current high school students. Featured entertainers include Pittsburgh Jazz Hall of Famers: Benny Benack Jr. and the Benny Benack Band; retired Thomas Jefferson instructor Ray DeFade Sr., as well as his son, Eric; pianist Max Leake, and Mike Tomaro, the director of Jazz Studies at Duquesne University. Tomaro is also the event's emcee.

Ray DeFade will also lead the Thomas Jefferson Alumni Big Band, a group of more than 20 TJ alumni musicians. Jim Mirabella, the high school band director, will direct the Thomas Jefferson High School Jazz Band.

Featured vocalists include Dorette DeFade Younkin, daughter of the elder DeFade; Carmen LoPresti and Wendy Parzich, both Thomas Jefferson alumni; A Cappella JagChoir, led by Julie Lucci, director of choirs at the high school and Pleasant Hills Middle School.

Suszynski said the annual event attracts anywhere from 350 to 500 people. It also serves as the main fundraiser for TJ Arts. It also helps fund four scholarships in the arts for graduating seniors, as well as art lessons to students who show artistic talent, but are in financial need.

“Every child benefits,” said Suszynski, a retired Thomas Jefferson High School teacher.

Tickets for the show are $20 and $10 for students 18 and younger.

As before there will be complimentary desserts donated by local businesses. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the concert starts at 6:30 p.m.

On a related matter, TJ Arts is expected to name the five semifinalists vying to create a two-dimensional artwork of five panels for installation on an interior atrium wall at the new school on Nov. 1. The school's namesake, Thomas Jefferson, is the subject of the piece. The winning artist will receive a commission of up to $10,000.

“We wanted to do something for the new high school,” she said. “And we wanted to do something lasting.”

Suzanne Elliott is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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