Music students head to jazz festival

Alexandra Brell

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Josiah Boornazian, the leader and composer of “The Josiah Boornazian Group,” a student jazz combo that has been selected to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Jennifer Zeitlin / Staff Photographer

CSUN jazz students will be playing among the biggest names in jazz at the 53rd annual Monterey Jazz Festival Sept. 17 to 19.

The Jazz “A” Band received top honors in the college big band division and the student jazz combo group. The Josiah Boornazian Group were the winners of the open combo division.

Student musicians will be sharing the bill at this high profile music event with artists such as Harry Connick, Jr., Dianne Reeves, Chick Corea and many others.
Students were selected from among the best college bands at the sixth annual Next Generation Jazz Festival, held by Monterey’s education department.

“It’s a huge honor to play at this festival,” said CSUN band director and professor Matt Harris, “especially since we represent the finest college big band and combo in the Western United States.”

According to a press release from the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Next Generation Festival is a 40-year-old event that includes three days of performances by middle school through college level groups. Competition categories include high school and college big band and vocal ensembles. The opening combo division was added this year.

“These are the top groups (that perform) so that when they play, everyone is astounded,” said Dr. Bob Klevan, education director at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Bands are selected by a team of faculty from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and the playing field is level, Klevan said.

“It’s a blind audition,” he said. “The CD’s are unmarked. There’s a team of faculty who rank them so they have no idea who Cal State Northridge is.”
Klevan said the organization does not focus on the competition aspect but the performance opportunity it affords students.

“What I appreciate about the colleges, even though there is a competition, it’s not evident even in the directors,” he said. “They’re just there to perform.”
Klevan said the collegiate divisions were added to Next Generation about four years ago.

“I teach at UC Santa Cruz and I just always felt that jazz education doesn’t end in high school,” he said. “These great players continue their education in college and there’s not a lot of opportunity to play in college.”

The potential for CSUN music students to play at the festival was evident for Harris. He recognized this possibility from the beginning of the year.
“We didn’t obsess on it, but it was in the back of my mind especially regarding programming the right material that would showcase this particular band,” he said.

Josiah Boornazian, a CSUN graduate student and alto saxophone player, is the founder and general manager of The Josiah Boornazian Group. Boornazian said he relished in the opportunity to perform at the Next Generation Festival.

“All I wanted was for my band to go there and play their absolute best,” he said. “I wanted us to show the jazz community the maturity, talent, creativity and originality of my group and our music, which is a product of both individual and group efforts.”

The ensemble is comprised of six music major band members: Boornazian, Matt DiGiovanna, a junior, on tenor sax, Juan Trujillo, a junior, on guitar, Gabe Rudner, a senior, on piano, Derek Beach, a senior, on bass, and Brijesh Pandya, a junior, on drums.

Boornazian said the members of the band work well together as they each bring something different to the table which “adds a good type of tension to the group” as well as respect for each others views.

Harris said the group’s talent and cohesiveness is evident.

“This is a real band that knows each other very well and can communicate musically on a very high level,” Harris said. “The compositions are also quite sophisticated for such young musicians.”

Trujillo, a music major, also plays in his own ensemble. They placed third in the festival’s open combo competition. Trujillo also received the Collegiate Outstanding Graduate Guitarist Award.

Trujillo said he and his band members’ success comes from dedicating a lot of time to their projects.

“We gotta make time for practice and rehearsing and all that stuff,” Trujillo said. “The consequence of that is we spend a great deal of time on campus. I’ll go to school at nine in the morning and stay until 10:30 at night. That’s what we kind of have to do.”

Trujillo’s group includes William Wulfeck, a junior, who is also a member of Jazz “A” Band. Wulfeck received the Outstanding Graduate Jazz Trombonist Award.

Not only does Boornazian recognize the importance of his group’s accomplishments and those of the Jazz “A” Band, but she sees how these affect the entire department.

“It is a good reflection on us individually, as an ensemble and as a strong and unique jazz program,” Boornazian said. “For us to win first place and Juan’s group to win, shows how great the music department, specifically the jazz area, is here at CSUN,” he said.