The News Site of Fresno City College

The Rampage Online

The News Site of Fresno City College

The Rampage Online

The News Site of Fresno City College

The Rampage Online

    FCC Jazz Festival

    The Fresno City College Theatre got a healthy workout last Thursday when more than 20 local high school jazz bands, from as far away as Lemoore, competed for scholarships and bragging rights at the 21st annual FCC City Jazz festival.

    The whole idea behind the festival is education, and over the past 21 years, the theatre stage has hosted more than 700 student jazz groups.  Mike Dana, professor of Jazz Studies at FCC, has hosted the event for the past 15 years, and says the program is geared to help students keep playing and pursuing their dreams.

    “Our panel of educators who adjudicate the performances have nothing but praise and healthy criticism for the musicians,” said Mike Dana, Jazz Studies instructor at FCC. “If we can offer the students any encouragement to play the correct notes, or how to change keys and octaves, then we have done our job.”

    Over the past 21 years, more than $100,000 in scholarships have been awarded to local musicians.  This year, percussionists took the top awards as Hayley Brownell of Buchanan High and Edward Fritz of Bullard High impressed the judges. They will each attend the Lafayette Summer Music Workshop, with their $600 scholarships. The panel of judges also gave their annual award for best high school soloist of the event to Aaron Grisez of Buchanan High School, for his exuberant solos on the vibes (xylophone).

    The complete list of winners and standouts can be found on our online version of the Rampage site,

    Dana said the local bands worked tirelessly. “These kids started before dawn and still have the energy to attend the awards concert,” said Dana.  After an upbeat noon time performance by the FCC Latin Jazz Ensemble, student performances continued until all the schools had completed their sets.

    While the student groups perform their orchestrations in the theatre, over in the MS-132 recital Hall, FCC music department chair Larry Honda, got things off to a rousing start with his Jazz Improvisational clinic. “We try to get the kids just to play and not think,” says Honda. “We keep them challenging each other as young musicians to just play without pressure.”

    Bob Sheppard, the featured performer this year, hosted two workshops himself, offering tips to the students as well as band directors, students and educators from many different locales. The topic this year was the embouchure, the term applied to the structure of the mouth muscles, when applied to the woodwind mouthpiece.

    Evening Awards Concert

    The FCC Jazz ensemble, directed by Mike Dana, opened up the awards concert with two energetic numbers, the most notable was ‘Jazz Crimes’, an intriguing piece that sounded like Peter Gunn creeping up from behind.  Dana then introduced Sheppard, who said he was grateful for the “opportunity to perform at community events like this.”

    The acoustics at the FCC theatre were geared up all day for the group ensembles, and Jeff Barrett, theatre manager and Nye Martin, the sound man, made sure all the necessary adjustments and accommodations were made.

    The FCC Jazz Ensemble which had only two weeks to rehearse the numbers that Sheppard sent performed brilliantly. The Horace Silver composition, “The Stroll” was deep and thoughtful, while Matt Harris tune, “El Gitote” was light and happy. Sheppard played his lighter Soprano sax this time, and the students traded solos with the master.

    The audience cheered wildly, clapping their hands along with the band.  Nancy Althizen, a piano enthusiast, who was at the concert, said, “The way they got the audience involved was brilliant. I have attended this festival for the last 10 years, and this is one of the best concerts I have seen.”

    A true pro, Sheppard picked up his trusty flute off the floor, and wild glissandos and riffs flew out this time; images of Ron Burgundy (Anchor Man) popped onto the stage. Many FCC student musicians said they would cherish this concert and look back with pride that they were able to share the stage with such a talent..

    For some musicians it was just an honor to be on the stage with such a talented master like Sheppard.  Former tenor sax jazz player, Mike Dimas remembers being on stage with Sheppard when he was here 10 years ago.   Dimas was in the audience this time, but still recalls the aura that Sheppard commands. “Except for the start of the concert when he forgot his towel in the bell of the horn, he was a beast,” Dimas said.

    The Man of the Hour

    Bob Sheppard, the featured performer of this year’s FCC Jazz festival, grew up on the East Coast in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He received his Master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music.  Sheppard was influenced by some of the greatest heroes of Jazz such as Cannonball Adderley and Paul Desmond (of Dave Brubeck fame.) As an alto player graduating from the clarinet, Sheppard heard the likes of Sonny Stitt and Phil Woods and knew he had to move up to the tenor.  He was “off and running” as he says and never looked back.

    Sheppard had never been west of Harrisburg, Penn. until the early 1980s when his buddies from school invited him out to Los Angeles. He knew studio musicians and session work existed but never knew how lucrative it could be.  He stayed with his love, ‘live’ club jazz, but things one thing led to one another, and he found himself on stage with the immortal Freddie Hubbard one night. Things clicked just right for the pair, and Sheppard ended up collaborating with Hubbard and his band for about seven years.  

    “At the time, there weren’t many players in L.A. with an East Coast background,” Sheppard said. “He [Hubbard] was absolutely the greatest teacher and one of the most profound influences on my career.”

    Now a seasoned bi-coastal musician, Sheppard makes his home in North Hollywood where he operates his recording studio. He said he manages to get out to his Manhattan apartment as often as he can.

    “There is so much going on in New York; I just played there last week, and I return energized every time I go,” Sheppard said. “New York is the center for Jazz music today, and the juice and the nature of the city keeps me grounded and fresh.”  

    As the Jazz Ensemble dispersed, Mike Dana assembled his smaller intimate combo, The Sanctuary Band, to play with Sheppard. They softly started with the John Coltrane epic, “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” The sounds were more soulful and the tone more eloquent as Sheppard caressed his Selmer Super balanced tenor saxophone.  Dana and his combo were more than just an accompaniment. The performance was well worth the price of admission.

    Among his other travels, Sheppard just returned from a tour of Australia with the highly acclaimed Kurt Elling who will perform at the Tower Theatre next Wednesday. Mike Dana’s group, The Sanctuary Band, will be Elling’s backup.  More information on the April 6 performance is available at Jazz

    Sheppard thanked the audience for supporting local jazz venues and for being the key to the preservation of the arts.

    “Without you the audience,” he said, “the whole scene is theoretical at best.”

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