Falmouth jazz students get special gig in Portland

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FALMOUTH — Students at Falmouth High School will have an opportunity to perform before an audience of jazz aficionados when they join the Portland Jazz Orchestra in concert Thursday, Jan. 19.

The concert, which will be held at One Longfellow Square in Portland, starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $9 for adults and $5 for students; members of the Falmouth High jazz ensemble can attend for free. 

Jake Sturtevant, the new band director at Falmouth High, said on Jan. 17 that while many of the musicians at the school have seen the Portland Jazz Orchestra perform before, “this sort of intimate setting is great and having a captive audience will be a great experience” for them.

In addition, the Portland Jazz Orchestra is also planning on performing two pieces that the students in Falmouth are working on, giving them a chance to see how the professionals do it.

Sturtevant plays the piano in the Portland Jazz Orchestra, one of several members of the band who also teach music at local high schools. Before coming to Falmouth, he taught at Bonny Eagle in Standish.

The Falmouth students will perform three numbers during intermission on Thursday, “Can’t We Be Friends,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “Street Music,” Sturtevant said.

He said the Portland Jazz Orchestra is “a huge proponent of jazz education” and has invited several schools to play with them during their monthly gigs at One Longfellow Square.

In fact, later this year, the orchestra will play with jazz students from Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and Westbrook, among other area high schools.

The Portland Jazz Orchestra was founded in 2004 and is “Maine’s premier concert jazz ensemble,” according to the band’s website. It’s under the direction of Chris Oberholtzer, Ph.D, who is the director of jazz studies at the University of Southern Maine.

The orchestra is an 18-piece ensemble that performs a variety of traditional and contemporary big band pieces. It’s also known for performing the original compositions and musical arrangements of its members, including some by Sturtevant, who Oberholtzer called “a great writer.”

Oberholtzer said Tuesday that the Portland Jazz Orchestra “regularly invites” high school jazz bands to perform, particularly throughout the high school jazz competition season, which generally runs from January through May.

He said “education is an important part of our mission” at the Portland Jazz Orchestra and said a lot of the band’s events involve local schools in some way.

Oberholtzer called One Longfellow Square “an awesome venue” and said it’s great that the concert hall is open to all ages. “While we love to hear the high school musicians perform, it’s very important for them to hear a professional-level band. It changes everything,” he said.

“We’re all about promoting good, live music,” Oberholtzer added. “It’s very important to bring this art form to audiences in southern Maine.”

What Sturtevant most likes about jazz is that it’s “primarily improvisational” and it “allows the students to express themselves.” What he enjoys about teaching jazz is the various styles and its long history in the U.S.

In addition to the concert Thursday, the jazz ensemble at Falmouth High will also attend the Berklee Jazz Festival in Boston on Feb. 11, hold its annual jazz night, at 7 p.m. on Feb. 16 and host the Maine instrumental jazz festival on March 2.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

One Longfellow Square in Portland, where students from Falmouth High School will perform Thursday, Jan. 19, with the Portland Jazz Orchestra.