ELKHART — Music was in the air on Wednesday as aspiring young jazz musicians paired with local experts for a day of learning.

Jazz artists from across the globe will be in town this weekend to perform for the 32nd annual Elkhart Jazz Festival.

But before the festival, a number of local jazz performers and music educators are offering a two-day workshop at Elkhart Central High School to teach area music students the tricks of their trade.

Throughout the school, close to 70 middle school and high school students occupied the music rooms, with the vast majority being from school districts in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties.

The yearly jazz tutorial, which stresses improvisation, is an effort to spark the students’ interest in jazz, according to workshop organizer Jim Catalano, a professional percussionist.

“Our goal to give jazz experience to middle school students who are aspiring to be in the high school jazz band when they get into high school,” Catalano said. “We also want to help educate the younger high school students who don’t have a lot of jazz experience and hope to be in the jazz ensemble when they are juniors and seniors.”

The workshop included a morning session where the students were grouped by instruments and an afternoon session where the students broke up into four ensembles: a high school big band and combination as well as a middle school big band and combination.

Many of the students said they had a fair amount of experience over the years, learning jazz, with the workshop only enhancing their interest.

Kaylee Kern, a pianist and senior at Mishawaka High School, has participated in the workshop for three years and said the experience has been educational and positive.

“This workshop gives you new ideas and gives you new ways of looking at things that maybe you wouldn’t figure out yourself,” she said, “and there’s always such a huge benefit from working and interacting with other people.”

Another student, Jacob Kamp, an eighth-grader at Concord Junior High School, who plays trumpet, said he appreciated how the teachers continue to push them to be better players.

“The teachers here really teach you the base roots of jazz,” he said. “You learn how to recognize what count you’re on by hearing the drums, and we’re also learning how to improvise a solo when you’re given a specific set of notes that you’re able to play. It’s all just been extremely helpful.”

The workshop will continue on Thursday.

After Thursday’s workshop, the students will get the chance to put their skills to the test and showcase their talents with a performance at 7 p.m. at the Lerner Theatre.

The performance will serve as an unofficial kickoff to the Jazz Festival, Catalano said.

“This is a unique experience for the students because when you’re learning a piece in school, you might work on it for three months, but here, we’re working on it for four hours and then we’re performing it,” Catalano said.

“Performing at the festival is always really exciting,” Kern said. “It’s just great to be in front of a full crowd of people and to see how it brings people together and see how it can fit into your life and others too.”

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