By Bay City News Service
El Cerrito High School's theater will be filled with the sounds of saxophone, drums, guitar and other instruments tonight — all played by local middle and high school students.
Crowds will converge on the theater for the West Contra Costa County Unified School District's first annual Jazz Festival, featuring jazz ensembles from five schools.
Student musicians enrolled in jazz programs at Helms, Pinole and Portola middle schools and Pinole Valley and El Cerrito high schools are set to perform tonight, district spokesman Marin Trujillo said.
Patrick Martin, coordinator of the event and principal of Crespi Middle School in El Sobrante, said the jazz festival is a twist on the district's annual symphonic concerts featuring performers from throughout the district.
He said the students in each of the ensembles taking the stage tonight have been prepping for the event in their jazz classes for months.
"We have good teachers, we have the classes in place, but the students really produced the music. They're the ones whose discipline and practice really made it possible," Martin said.
Martin noted that the district has helped make the event a reality with its ongoing support for music programs in secondary schools. That emphasis on music helps the students who spend hours each week behind an instrument bring a similar level of focus to academics, he said.
"It really relates to all the academic disciplines in some way or another and enhances any work they're doing," Martin said. "Most of the students involved in music are fairly proficient academically."
He noted that district officials, who had to cut music programs at elementary schools because of budget shortfalls, hope to bring music instruction back to those schools at some point.
Tonight's show starts at 7 p.m. at the El Cerrito High School Performing Arts Center at 540 Ashbury Ave. Admission is free, with a $5 suggested donation.
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