Rockford and Northview host an afternoon of Jazz with MSU and Mark Whitfield

Mark Whitfield giving it his all in his performance with the Rockford High School Jazz Band – Picture by John Vancil

By John Vancil

The award-winning Rockford and Northview High School Jazz Bands hosted an afternoon of Jazz at the Max Colley Jr. Performing Arts Center on December 9th, 2018.  The concert for a hall full of Jazz lovers began at 4:00 pm and concluded well after 6:30 pm and consisted of performances by Northview, Rockford, the MSU Be Bop Spartans Jazz Band and special guest jazz guitarist Mark Whitfield.  Mr. Whitfield made it a point to perform with all three bands, and his fast and accurate Jazz stylings on the guitar were a clear hit with the audience.

Members of the Rockford High School Jazz Band playing during their portion of the concert. – Picture by John Vancil

The highlight of the show was a performance of the Stevie Wonder classic “Superstition” by the Be Bop Spartans and Mr. Whitfield, which ran over ten minutes long.  Judging by the response of the audience it ended too soon!

A collaborator with a who’s-who list of jazz musicians, Mark Whitfield’s career was bound for greatness ever since he left his Berklee College of Music roots in the late 1980s. He earned “The Best Young Guitarist in the Business” nod in 1990 by the New York Times and a stack of accolades ever since.  Mark has performed and recorded with many well-known artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Smith, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Carmen McCrae, Dianne Reeves, Joe Williams, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis and many more. Mark is the December Jazz Artist in Residence at Michigan State University.

Evan Coberly plays a solo during the Rockford High School Jazz Band portion of the concert. – Picture by John Vancil

The Michigan State University jazz studies area is committed to the highest level of performance, mentoring, education, and community outreach. This unique curriculum features nationally, and internationally renowned faculty members drawn from the highest ranks of the jazz community. All faculty members have experience performing with top recording and performing artists in the jazz music industry. This is the third consecutive year that Michigan State has collaborated with Rockford and Northview to bring nationally acclaimed jazz artists to Grand Rapids for performance.

The stage is set and ready for the show.  – Picture by John Vancil

Directed by Mr. Cullen McCarthy, the Rockford High School Jazz Band is a co-curricular band activity, meeting once a week outside of class times to practice, and playing festivals and competitions throughout the winter and spring.  In 2017 the band won the Michigan State University Essentially Ellington festival and in 2018 was invited to perform at the Detroit Jazz Festival over Labor Day Weekend.  The Detroit Jazz Festival is the largest free Jazz Festival in the world.

Under the direction of Mr. Greg Wells, the Northview High School Jazz band has been a perennial top performer in competitions both within Michigan and across the country.  The band has received first division ratings at the MSBOA State Jazz Festival since 1975, has won “Best Band” awards at many college invitationals and have performed at the Detroit Jazz Festival over nineteen times, as well as internationally at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

The Rockford High School Jazz Band will perform next at the Central Michigan University Jazz Festival on Friday February 1st, 2019.

Mark Whitfield giving it his all in his performance with the Rockford High School Jazz Band – Picture by John Vancil