Wilton hosts annual high school jazz festival

The John Rhodes Jazz Symposium will take place Feb. 28 at Wilton High School.

The John Rhodes Jazz Symposium will take place Feb. 28 at Wilton High School.

Gunn Memorial Library / Contributed photo

WILTON — Although the John Rhodes Jazz Symposium has been a tradition at Wilton High School for 44 years, this year will be especially apt, given it is the 100th anniversary of Dave Brubeck’s birth. Brubeck was a longtime Wilton resident who was celebrated as a jazz composer, pianist, cultural ambassador, and visionary musician.

The symposium, which will bring together two jazz bands from Wilton High School and seven bands from other area high schools as they play works by great artists from Brubeck to Tito Puente, will take place on Friday, Feb. 28, in the school’s Little Theater at 395 Danbury road.

Wilton High School band directors Nick Loafman and Troy Williams will host the affair, which over the years has become a perennial hit with jazz enthusiasts of all ages. Everyone in the community is invited to this free event.

The symposium will kick off the Wilton Reads 2020 program, which this year revolves entirely around the theme of jazz. To honor Brubeck’s centennial and celebrate his career, several of his tunes will be performed at the symposium.

“The American art of jazz is alive and well in our school music programs,” Loafman said. “It is always great to bring so many talented students together and to create the opportunity for school groups to hear each other play great music. It is a special treat as well, to celebrate the history the town of Wilton has with Dave Brubeck and the Brubeck family. This is the mark of cultural vibrancy in our town.”

The jazz symposium offers them not only the opportunity to perform on stage for a supportive audience but to also receive critical feedback from an academic panel.

“Having the world-renowned percussionist Arthur Lipner critiquing our ensembles will be such a treat,” Williams said. “With Arthur being one of the leading vibes and marimba voices in jazz today, he will be able to give us feedback that will not only grow our ensembles but also help our students become better musicians overall.”

Along with the two Wilton jazz bands, participating will be King School, Norwalk, Ridgefield, Port Chester, Darien and McMahon high schools. Each band will play a 30-minute set. The first session will kick off at 4 p.m. with a performance by WHS Jazz Band II and continue until 5:30, at which time there will be a short break for dinner. The second session will start at 6 and conclude at 9, with WHS Jazz Band I playing the final set.

In total, approximately 200 students are expected to participate. Musical selections will range in style from traditional big band swing to Latin to ballads to contemporary jazz.

Loafman and Williams are especially pleased to welcome back the Berkshire Jazz Orchestra for a guest performance, scheduled for 9 p.m.. Their repertoire for the evening will include several jazz standards and contemporary tunes as well as two Dave Brubeck compositions. This regional jazz group, organized in 1987, comprises active performers and educators from the Fairfield County community and may be seen on stages across the region.

The Wilton Jazz Symposium, first held in 1976, was the original jazz festival of its kind in Connecticut. It was established by veteran music teacher John Rhodes who dedicated more than 50 years to music education, with 42 of them in Wilton.

He served as band director and instructional leader at Wilton High School and Middlebrook School, and also as an operetta, musical, and theater director. To commemorate his retirement in June 2018, Wilton Public Schools officially bestowed his name on its annual jazz symposium.