Hilton Evening of Jazz celebrates 20 years

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The jazz event offers students an opportunity to play with well-known artists. (Photo: Hilton School District)

The annual Hilton Evening of Jazz marks its second decade of bringing award-winning talent to perform alongside student musicians next week. 

Presented by the Hilton School District Jazz Department and Hilton Music Boosters, the Feb. 9 event features Rochester International Jazz Fest veterans the Chris Minh Doky All Stars Band, starring Dennis Chambers and Bill Evans. 

Jared Streiff, Hilton’s jazz ensemble director, who has been with the district for 23 years, began spearheading the event in 2003.

In its earliest form, the evening featured performances by Rochester-area school jazz ensembles. After five years of saving and fundraising, Streiff began inviting professional musicians to the evening of jazz, providing students the opportunity to play with, and watch, acclaimed artists.

“My vision has always been to give the students an opportunity to interact, work, and play with artists who have won multiple Grammy awards and have recorded and played with just about anyone you can think of,” says Streiff.

This year’s professional artist is the Chris Minh Doky All Stars Band, returning to Rochester after performing in the Rochester International Jazz Fest last summer. Chris Minh Doky, an electric and acoustic bass guitarist born in Denmark, is a four-time Grammy nominee. His career spans genres, and he is known not only on the international jazz stage, but also for performing with pop stars, symphony orchestras and ballet companies.

The All Stars Band is rounded out by saxophonist Bill Evans and guitarist David Gilmore, with Dennis Chambers on the drums and George Whitty on the keys.

Whitty is a Grammy-award winning keyboardist, performing on bestselling records including Santana’s “Supernatural” and Celine Dion’s “Falling Into You” and “These Are Special Times.” Gilmore tours and records across the world in addition to teaching guitar studies at Berklee College of Music. His musical past includes studying with sax titan Joe Lovano and pianist Jim McNeely at New York University.

The evening of jazz is more than a one-night event for the All Stars Band and the students involved. Each year, the students prepare for the artists in attendance by listening to their music, researching who they’ve played with, and discussing their accomplishments. If a student in the Hilton Central School District begins involvement in a jazz ensemble in seventh grade, they will have the opportunity to engage with professional musicians in an annual Hilton Evening of Jazz six times during their high school career.

The artists will begin working with Hilton students the day before the event, holding a morning masterclass with over 600 students between fourth and twelfth grades. In the afternoon, the artists will work one on one with the Merton Williams Middle School and Hilton High School jazz ensembles. 

The performance will open with tunes by the middle school jazz ensemble, followed by the high school jazz ensemble’s set. Both students and the audience will then be able to watch the Chris Minh Doky All Stars take the stage. 

“It’s important that the students not only play with these artists, but see them play in their element. They are able to see these artists play alongside like-minded musicians of like skill,” says Streiff.

The night will close with a collective performance of the song “Some Skunk Funk,” with the students playing shoulder-to-shoulder with the professionals. This song will pay homage to the Brecker Brothers, a legendary funk duo that all members of the Chris Minh Doky All Stars played with at some point in the past. 

Following each Hilton Evening of Jazz, Streiff finds that the impact on students is lasting.

“After the concert, the buzz continues among students for a month afterwards. The students are in complete awe of the artists’ mastery of their instruments,” says Streiff.

Funds raised from the event will go toward inviting another professional artists for next year’s performance. The Evening of Jazz is also a Hilton Music Boosters fundraiser, offsetting the cost of student music group trips. Hilton ensembles have traveled for adjudicated performances in Chicago, Myrtle Beach, New Orleans, and most recently in New York City, where they performed for judges from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

The 20th annual Hilton Evening of Jazz will take place at 7:00 p.m. at the Hilton High School auditorium. Tickets can be purchased in advance online.

Evan Coleman is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and a recent University of Rochester graduate. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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