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  • Donny Thompson, M.S., NPA


Jazz Outreach Initiative, after considerable discussions with UNLV School of Music Division of Jazz and Commercial Music and Jazz at Lincoln Center, determined in January that due to the raging Omicron variant scheduled to peak the same weekend as the nation’s largest Regional Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Festival, that for the safety of the nearly 2,000 concert goers and over 600 high school band students, directors, and parents descending on the UNLV Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall for two full days, the festival would need to be canceled. Many other concerts and events were also canceled across the Vegas valley. There simply was no good way to ensure safety with all the food service planned, clinics and masterclasses, performances, and the final concert.

However, JOI determined that rather than simply pull the plug, we would create at least some semblance of a festival experience entirely at its own expense along with its festival sponsors to further good will in the community and among its many band participants. In an effort some have been quoted as classy, JOI refunded 100% of all the band participation fees... AND THEN...

Provided a FREE virtual masterclass with the master jazz educators it had lined up for the weekend to all students and their band directors. This included a general session and breakout rooms for each section of the big band. World renowned artists provided insight and skills to students from Las Vegas, Henderson, Orange County, Seattle, San Francisco, Sacramento, and other cities. Taking the rhythm section was drummer Dr. Sherrie Maricle (Diva Jazz Orchestra), Prof. Dave Loeb (UNLV Div. of Jazz & Commercial Music), and Prof. Rodney Whitaker (Dir. Jazz Studies, Michigan State Univ.). Trombones were led by master musician and Shires Trombone artist, Curt Miller, who is also V.P. of JOI’s Board of Directors. Trumpets were led by JOI co-founders Kenny Rampton (Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra) and Gary Cordell (V.P. Education & Programming for JOI). And for the saxophones, long time friend of JOI, Julius Tolentino (Jazz Dir., Newark Academy and JEN Board Member). Students and their band directors were treated to two full hours of discussions, Q&A, and instruction. AND THEN...

…JOI invited bands scheduled to participate in the festival, an opportunity to record a video of one of their scheduled pieces and upload it to JOI where JOI’s own master engineer crafted a video representing a sample of the music so students who would have been encouraged to watch peers from other schools perform, could enjoy the experience on video. This video is available now to those bands and to the public. AND THEN...

…JOI continued its intention of purchasing nearly 600 custom designed festival t-shirts which it has always given free to participating students and band directors. JOI supported local businesses and purchased the shirts which were sorted and re-boxed for shipping by members of JOI’s volunteer group at the home of Executive Director, Donny Thompson. Volunteer leaders Bob and Shirley Kramer along with Patrick Frase and Canarelli Middle School band director Marisa Davidson enjoyed breakfast before readying the shirts to be distributed FREE to all of the schools and their student musicians so they would have some token of the festival to carry with them and enjoy. AND THEN...

…JOI received a generous gift from supporters, Fred and Gee Katen, enough to fund a long-anticipated program where we would send members of our professional JOI Jazz Orchestra into the local schools in the CCSD to work with bands and their directors in preparation for spring school district jazz festivals. Participants in the Essentially Ellington festival have been given first rights to this outstanding 100% FREE program which launched a few weeks ago and is available for up to 20 middle and high school bands.

Jazz Outreach Initiative is proud that it is able to so efficiently pivot when challenging times occur and provide outstanding education, outreach, and performance opportunities for youth throughout Southern Nevada and beyond. And we’re pleased that with the support of the community and our Board of Directors along with the strong focus on integrity and service to our mission by our leadership team, while the Essentially Ellington Regional High School Jazz Band Festival had to be canceled, we stepped up and offered an exceptional level of support and service and we know in doing so, we’ll earn their participation when we offer other programs and when we bring the festival itself back.

A special thank you goes out to our festival and t-shirt sponsors, U.S Bank Foundation, The Fred and Gladys Katen Family Trust, Friends of UNLV Jazz, JB Public Relations, and Del Quadro Custom Trumpets! Thank you to our JOI Board of Directors, Pres. Kenny Rampton, V.P. Curt Miller, Sec. Juliana McRae, Treas. Dan B. Philippus, CPA, and Directors Dave Clark and Clint Holmes. Thank you to JOI's Operations Team of Kenny Rampton, Gary Cordell, Curt Miller, and Donny Thompson. Thank you to our new volunteer group, the JOI Jazz Alliance led by Bob and Shirley Kramer, and thank you to all of our supporters, donors, and subscribers who “Make A Difference!”

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