Northrop Jazz Festival invites famed drummer

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Butch Miles performs with the Count Basie Orchestra at Blue Note Tokyo. Miles will teach and perform March 11 at Northrop High School.

Northrop High School is expecting more than 20 bands to bring their own special interpretation of jazz to the school’s annual Barry Ashton Jazz Festival on Saturday, March 11.

Rob Wilson, Northrop’s first-year band director, said “most of the bands will be from Fort Wayne area middle schools and high schools, but a few from as far away as South Bend and Indianapolis have come in the past. We won’t know exactly how many will be here until closer to the event date.”

Northrop’s jazz festival, which has been drawing top jazz bands for more than 20 years, is considered among the premier jazz fests in northeast Indiana. Northrop High School is at 7001 Coldwater Road, Fort Wayne. Doors open at 7 a.m. The evening concert begins at 6:30 p.m. Tickets at the door are $5.

Each of the high school and middle school bands and combos will present a 25-minute program (approximately three numbers each). A team of high school band directors and area jazz professionals will judge the bands on their style, intonation, accuracy, rhythm and improvisational skills. The top two scoring high school jazz bands will have the opportunity to perform on the evening concert program.

Northrop’s Jazz I ensemble will also be on the evening program and be joined by nationally known drummer and clinician Butch Miles from Austin, Texas. “We’ve had trombonists, trumpeters, clarinetists and saxophonists adjudicating the event in the past, which is why I specifically chose Miles to be one of our clinicians this year. It was basically because he’s a drummer,” said Wilson, “and we haven’t had a drummer in the past.”

The participating groups will play a variety of styles ranging from standard jazz classics to Latin and funk, which according to Wilson is a rhythm-based (no swing) mixture of soul, jazz and rhythm and blues. Bands vary in number from 20 to 24 musicians, while combos will have a pianist, bass guitarist, drummer and two or three wind players.

Wilson is in his first year as head of the Big Orange Pride Band at Northrop. He came to Fort Wayne from Columbia City where he was band director at Columbia City High School. The Kokomo native is a graduate of Northwestern High School and holds a bachelor of arts degree in music education from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He played in his high school and college marching and jazz bands.