The 44th annual John Rhodes Jazz Symposium will be held on Friday, Feb. 28 in the Little Theater at Wilton High School. This event is a showcase of jazz bands from WHS and other area high schools playing works by great jazz artists from Tito Puente to Dave Brubeck.

WHS band directors Nick Loafman and Troy Williams will host the affair, which over the years has become a perennial hit with jazz enthusiasts of all ages. Everyone in the community is invited to come enjoy the inspired performances of the area’s young musical talent. Admission is free.

This symposium will be a special one for two reasons. First, it will kick off the Wilton Reads 2020 program, which this year revolves entirely around the theme of jazz. Second, 2020 marks the 100th birthday of Dave Brubeck—jazz composer, pianist, cultural ambassador, visionary musician and former longtime Wilton resident. To honor Brubeck’s centennial and celebrate his career, several of his tunes will be performed at the symposium–and his son, Grammy-nominated composer and musician, and Wilton resident Chris Brubeck will be performing as a guest artist with the Berkshire Jazz Orchestra to close out the evening.

“The American art of jazz is alive and well in our school music programs,” Loafman says. “It is always great to bring so many talented students together and to create the opportunity for school groups to hear each other play great music. It is a special treat as well, to celebrate the history the town of Wilton has with Dave Brubeck and the Brubeck family. This is the mark of cultural vibrancy in our town.”

The John Rhodes Jazz Symposium is a cherished tradition for area jazz students. It offers them the opportunity to perform on stage for a supportive audience as well as to receive critical feedback from an academic panel. “Having the world-renowned percussionist Arthur Lipner critiquing our ensembles will be such a treat,” Williams adds. “With Arthur being one of the leading vibes and marimba voices in jazz today, he will be able to give us feedback that will not only grow our ensembles but also help our students become better musicians overall.”

This year the program will include performances by two jazz bands from WHS and seven bands from other area high schools, including King School, Norwalk, Ridgefield, Port Chester, Darien and McMahon. Each band will play 30-minute sets. The first session will kick off at 4 p.m. with a performance by WHS Jazz Band II and continue until 5:30 p.m., at which time there will be a short break for dinner. The second session will start at 6 p.m. and conclude at 9 p.m., with WHS Jazz Band I playing the final set.

In total, approximately 200 students are expected to assemble for this event to share their talents and bring great entertainment to Wilton. Musical selections will range in style from traditional big band swing to Latin to ballads to contemporary jazz.

Loafman and Williams are especially pleased to welcome back to Wilton Fairfield County’s own Berkshire Jazz Orchestra for a guest performance, scheduled for 9 p.m.. Their repertoire for the evening will include several jazz standards and contemporary tunes as well as two Dave Brubeck compositions. This regional jazz group, organized in 1987, comprises active performers and educators from the Fairfield County community and can be seen on stages across the region.

“We feel so honored to have these great musicians perform here in Wilton for the students and the community,” Loafman says. “Many of them have been in the area for decades. Some are even WHS alumni!”

The Wilton Jazz Symposium, first held in 1976, was the original jazz festival of its kind in Connecticut. It was established by John Rhodes, a veteran teacher and pillar of music education in the town of Wilton. When it first began, the festival format was unique, but now it has become widespread throughout the state and region at large.

Originally from Ohio, Rhodes dedicated over 50 years to music education, with 42 of them in the town of Wilton. He served as band director and instructional leader at Wilton High School and Middlebrook School, and also as an Operetta, musical, and theater director. To commemorate his retirement in June of 2018, Wilton Public Schools officially bestowed his name on its annual jazz symposium.