Published: Feb. 6, 2017 By

jazz students on stage

Students of the Thompson Jazz Studies Program will perform as part of the Mile High Jazz Festival on Feb. 15-17.

It’s been a Colorado tradition for more than 50 years and this year, it’s coming to Macky Auditorium.

Building on the excitement of the U.S. Air Force Band’s collaboration with the CU bands department and the third CU International Guitar Festival—both happening in early February—the Thompson Jazz Studies Program is getting ready for its closeup at the 53rd Mile High Jazz Festival on Feb. 15-17.

Sponsored by Flesher Hinton Music Company, the festival hosts more than 50 middle school and high school jazz groups for three days of performances, clinics and competitions. It’s been held in different high schools along the Front Range, but this year Thompson Jazz Studies Director John Gunther says the College of Music wanted to get involved.

“It’s the longest running high school jazz festival in the state,” Gunther says. “These students and directors are getting to hear other groups for the first time and we’re excited to be a part of that.”

Jazz at CU will play a central role in the festivities, with daily afternoon concerts planned with the Concert Jazz Ensemble and Associate Professor of Jazz Paul McKee featured on trombone. Then on Thursday, Feb. 16, the rest of the Thompson Jazz faculty takes the stage with Jazz Ensemble II for an evening concert in Macky Auditorium.

Gunther hopes students will be energized both by the performances of professional musicians and by the chance to play on the Macky stage themselves.

“I’m excited they get to perform at Macky. You can’t beat that feeling when you’re up on a stage like that for the first time and you look out and see the audience and think, ‘Wow, this is great.’”

Participants, who will be coming from all over the state, will get clinic time with some longtime Colorado music educators, including Denver bassist Ron Bland and trumpeter Dennis Sullivan of the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts. The public is invited to sit in on the all-day clinics and competitions throughout the festival.

Gunther, who grew up in Colorado and has taught at CU since 2005, participated in the program as a young musician himself. He says the Thompson Jazz Studies Program has an important role to play as jazz grows in popularity in the region.

“This festival is a real piece of the legacy of jazz in Colorado music education, so it’s neat for us to be able to support it and make sure it continues.”

The festival serves as a warmup act for the Thompson Jazz Studies Program: Coming up in March, the Concert Jazz Ensemble will spend a week in Costa Rica for a mix of unique performances, clinics and master classes around San Jose.

Gunther says the festival will return to Macky in 2018, with plans to host a very special guest artist.

For information on the Mile High Jazz Festival, visit the Events page.