5th annual Bill Watrous Jazz Ensemble to take center stage

The Sam Houston State University School of Music will host the 5th Annual Bill Watrous Jazz Festival this weekend.

Courtesy Aric Schneller

Courtesy Aric Schneller


Student musicians from across Texas will come to campus to compete and hear from some of the best professional jazz musicians in the country.

Aric Schneller, director of Jazz Studies at the school of music, said the festival combines education and competition in to an unforgettable atmosphere for all participants.

“The jazz festival is a competitive, educational event,” Schneller said. “High school and college jazz bands perform every 30 minutes throughout the day and receive critique sheets from each of the nationally known jazz educators and for the educational benefits that result from hearing other groups perform.”

Schneller said performers are encouraged to listen to other musicians in order to provide an audience and to make the most of the experience.

“Listening is such a vital part of music education,” Schneller said. “This will provide an audience for each band and an opportunity for members to hear live performances.”

Competitive performers come from all over the state to showcase their talent and go head-to-head with other musicians in their registered division. Schneller said the top performers in each category will be rewarded for their outstanding performances during the SHSU Jazz Ensemble closing performances each night.

“Outstanding performance certificates will be given to bands receiving a first-division rating,” Schneller said. “First, second and third place will be awarded within each category: college, high school and middle school. Outstanding Soloists and Musicians will also be selected. This adds an element of excitement to the festivities and recognizes superior individual achievement.”

The SHSU Jazz Ensemble prepares throughout the year in order to perform at their best for this particular event.

“We practice three days a week and give performances throughout each semester,” Schneller said. “In addition each section practices once a week as well as many hours of individual practice, too.”

Although the jazz festival has been around for nearly 60 years, it received its current name just a few years ago after jazz legend Bill Watrous in order increase the event’s popularity.

“We created a named jazz festival in Bill Watrous’ honor back in 2011 to help grow the festival and jazz education in the state of Texas,” Schneller said. “We’re hoping to create an endowment to sustain the festival for years to come and partnering with Bill Watrous will help us to do that.”

The original idea was turned into reality after receiving the official go-ahead from Watrous and his wife.

The jazz festival’s program stated with the blessings of Bill and Maryann Watrous SHSU, the Bill Watrous Jazz Festival is a reality and they hope that the festival will grow and keep the art of jazz alive and well for many years to com.

Schneller said the turnout for the event is well received by the public, and this year’s is expected to live up to the history of the event with noteworthy guests who will perform and host clinics.

“We usually get 12 to 15 bands per day and 300 people for each evening concert,” Schneller said. “This year is unique as we have jazz trumpet legend, Allen Vizzutti, joining Bill and our students for the evening concerts of world-class performances.”

Senior music education major Steven Yost plays the bass trombone in the SHSU Jazz Ensemble. He said the festival is exciting for the students as they get to participate in addition to witnessing accomplished musicians showcase their craft.

“I’m very excited for the festival this year,” Yost said. “Each year we bring back Bill Watrous to come play with us, and we feature another famous jazz musician. This year we will be featuring Allen Vizutti, possibly one of the greatest trumpet players of all time.”

Along with Watrous and Vizzutti, featured performers include Russ Nolan, Sean Nelson, David Morgenroth, David Craig and Daniel DuFour.

The SHSU Bill Watrous Jazz Festival will take place in the James and Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center and is scheduled to begin Friday at 9:30 a.m. with performances by the Prairie View A&M Jazz Ensemble and continue with various performances throughout the day.

Saturday’s performances will kick off at 9 a.m. Each day will conclude at 7:30 p.m. with an evening concert in the GPAC Concert Hall followed by the awards ceremony.

The daytime events are free. However, evening performances cost $15 general admission, $12 senior citizens and $5 for SHSU students.

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