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John HartDavid Lynn (right) directs the Union Hill School Bearcats jazz band Monday morning, as it rehearses for this weekend's Empire Mine Jazz Festival.
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Jazz is musical Esperanto. It has no limits, it is played by young and old alike, and those who dig it represent a microcosm of society.

And if you don’t think that’s the case, then consider the Empire Mine Jazz Festival, a cozy little clambake scheduled for Saturday (noon to 4:30 p.m.) on the green at Empire Mine State Park. It’s an event at which local schoolkids, young adults and veteran musicians will serve up a smorgasbord of jazz for the benefit of the Union Hill School music program.

This year will be the third, one-day jamboree staged at the park and David Lynn, who heads up the school’s music program, believes the event not only helps fund the music program but just as important, exposes younger musicians to jazz.

“Ours at Union Hill is mainly a concert band,” said Lynn, “and unless they have a special interest in jazz, kids really don’t get much exposure to the art form. But an event like the one Saturday will give them a chance to play some jazz, as well as see some of the area’s pros in action.”

And that they will, because the band mix includes such well-known local artists as bassist Paul Klempau and guitarist Ian Case, who will be performing with the Klempau-Case Project, a high-energy quintet.

Klempau performed with the Wynton Marsalis group last fall on Jazz Weekend at the Veterans Memorial Building and also is seen regularly with the Bridge Street Trio. And Case is a promising six-stringer who makes his home in Grass Valley when he isn’t attending the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.

There will be eight acts in all, two more than last year. The Union Hill School Bearcats, 22 strong, will kick off the program with a bobtailed set (15 minutes), while the Sierra Gold Big Band, a 16-piece ensemble that evokes memories of the swing era, will close up shop with an hourlong concert.

The rest of the acts will perform 30-minute sets. In chronological order, they are the first of two Nevada Union High School jazz bands directed by Ken Carter; Grass Valley Jazz, a five-piece combo that focuses on swing and Dixieland, led by Lynn; the second Nevada Union High School instrumental entry; the Klempau-Case combo; the Nevada Union Jazz Choir, directed by Rod Baggett; and the Young Guns, formerly known as the Rare Albino Bluesmen.

KVMR’s Len Gorsky will serve as emcee for the afternoon of jazz staged under the aegis of the Union Hill School Music Boosters.

The two previous festivals have netted a total of roughly $3,200, according to Lynn, who adds that the money has been put to good use.

“We’ve been able to add band orchestrations to our library, several used instruments, as well as purchasing a new baritone sax that ran $900,” said Lynn. “And the funds also have helped underwrite incidental music program expenses.”

In addition to revenue produced by jazz listeners, refreshments and tickets for a drawing will be available at the festival site.

Chances are, Lynn said, the event will remain a one-day festival in future years. He noted that the musicale runs a little longer this year than in the past simply because there are more bands: “We can always start earlier, but we can’t finish much later, because we have to have things wrapped up by the time the park is ready to close.”

Expanding the festival also would mean finding more bands or acts willing to donate their time and talent.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have so many musicians willing to perform without pay,” Lynn said. “But they recognize the need for school music programs to flourish, and as a result, we’re able to offer an outstanding afternoon of jazz.”

A word to the wise for those planning to attend the event: take lawn chairs or blankets to sit on, as well as light jackets, in the event the afternoon turns cool.

WHAT: Third annual Empire Mine Jazz Festival

WHEN: Saturday from noon to 4:30 p.m.

WHERE: Empire Mine State Park on the lawn, 10791 E. Empire St., Grass Valley

ADMISSION: $6 in advance and $7 at the door for adults; $3 for children; and free for children 5 and under. Advance tickets at Record Connection, Odyssey Books and The Book Seller.


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