Bands from 15 area schools, colleges to be featured at Yough jazz event
“Jazz cat” fever will be contagious when jazz musicians from throughout Westmoreland and Washington counties will converge for a weekend of music.
The seventh annual Yough Jazz Weekend will present back-to-back nights of entertainment featuring bands from as many as 15 area schools and colleges.
The two-evening event, April 12 and 13, will have audiences tapping to Big Band tunes, swing music, Latin pieces, pop selections and many more distinctive styles.
“There will be music that never stops,” said Yough band director Don Green.
“We have a very unique stage set up,” said Green of the revolving stage with platform dividers that eliminates lag time between performances. “We try to offer everybody a nice variety of music to listen to.”
According to Green, the local festival is “one-of-a-kind“ in the area.
Participating bands vary from year to year. However, some schools such as Belle Vernon Area High School return each season to the event held at Yough's auditorium in Herminie.
“We have a very nice mix of middle school, high schools and some colleges,” said Green, noting this year's lineup will showcase music by the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Westminster College bands.
Bands from Seton Hill University, California University of Pennsylvania, Messiah College and Washington & Jefferson College, among others, have taken the stage at the festival in past years.
Green said the festival provides students the full spectrum of experience performing in front of large audiences that they don't normally get playing at smaller concerts in front of families members.
“It makes them feel like professionals. It's not just for mom and day. It's not just a concert, it's an event,” said Green.
“For them, it's a blast. They have a fabulous time playing in front of a very large audience that greatly appreciates the music.”
Yough senior Josh Gillot agrees.
“The jazz festival this school puts on is awesome!,” said Gillot, who plays a guitar. “Where else do you get to see one band after another spinning onto a stage with nonstop music? The atmosphere is so impressive, and I think that's what has led to such a great turnout year after year.”
Ken Ewing, Derry Area band director whose school will be returning for the third year, “highly recommends” the weekend to all types of music listeners.
“The students love every minute of it. It‘s just fun,” said Ewing. “They love the laid-back atmosphere, being able to play, eat and watch other bands. It's one of their favorite things to do all year.”
Ewing, a graduate of IUP, said a past festival gave his students a chance to enjoy hearing his alma mater band, and have a drummer from Westminster join them in one of their performances.
Kevin McManus, professor of jazz ensemble and trombone at Westminster College, has participated several times at the Yough event, four years as jazz director at Seton Hill University and once before with the Westminster group.
“The Yough Jazz Weekend is a fantastic experience for both music lovers and jazz education,” said McManus.
The festival starts at 6 p.m. and continues to about 10 p.m. with a short intermission. Green said guests can take advantage of refreshments in the cafeteria, provided by the Yough Band Association, at intermission and during the show.
“It's a really relaxed atmosphere,” he said. “People can come and go whenever.
“We fill up the auditorium both nights. A lot of folks attend both performances,” said Green. “It's really great for senior citizens. Where else can they see 10 live bands perform in one night for $5? To see a show of this caliber you'd pay $20 to $30 minimum.”
The band director said the festival is also a way for the groups to hear each other play and offers an avenue for colleges to recruit student musicians.
On a personal note, Green said the variety of music Yough presents that evening gives him the opportunity to teach the different styles.
Green said the Yough Band held jazz festivals as far back as the 1970s, but for various reasons the event died out.
“When I came back as band director at the high school, the very first thing I wanted to do was to start up the jazz festival again,” said Green.
The Yough jazz bands consists of three groups — Jazz One, a by-audition ensemble; Jazz Two, a group of mainly younger students; and the Alumni Jazz Band. The latter band “is an opportunity for our alumni to come back and support our event,” said Green.
All three Yough bands will perform both nights.
Other bands performing on Friday night are Westminster College, Mount Pleasant Area, Southmoreland, Belle Vernon Area and Penn-Trafford high schools and Franklin Regional and Harrold middle schools.
Saturday's line-up includes Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Valley, Greater Latrobe, Derry Area and Greensburg Salem high schools, Greater Latrobe Junior High School and Wendover Middle School.
Cost is $7 for adults and $5 for students and senior citizens. Tickets can be purchased at the door.
Colleen Pollock is a freelance writer.