Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools will celebrate its 25th annual All-District Jazz Festival beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, in the Gahanna Lincoln High School auditorium, 140 S. Hamilton Road.

The concert will include performances by 130 students from Lincoln High School Jazz Bands I and II and the Middle School East, West and South jazz bands.

The festival will feature guest artist Christopher Azzara, professor of music education at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

"My husband, Jeff Shellhammer, (former) director of bands, initiated the idea of this festival, to give the jazz groups the opportunity to be the focus of a concert," said Kelly Shellhammer, Gahanna Lincoln High School jazz band director. "And then when we added the guest artists and eventually offered a clinic to the students, it became a shining star in our jazz program.

"It's a tremendous evening highlighting the many talented and dedicated young musicians at Lincoln High School. After all, you have to be dedicated to show up for a 6:45 a.m. rehearsal," she said.

Greg Miller, Gahanna Middle School West band director, said his musicians get a lot from the festival.

"We always look forward to this event as a chance for our middle school students to see and hear what is happening at the high school," he said.

"It is a great opportunity for our beginning jazz musicians to see what is possible with continued practice and hard work, and exposes them to many different styles of music."

In addition, Miller said, students will enjoy hearing from Azzara.

"Hearing artists of his caliber soloing with Jazz Band I on this concert always makes an impact with our students," he said. "I know Chris will be very engaging with the students and the audience as a whole. I know his presence will especially impact my daughter, Emily, who is the piano player for Jazz Band I. She really enjoys the creative side of playing jazz music, and Dr. Azzara loves to challenge our students' musical creativity."

The All-District Jazz Festival, introduced in 1994, was meant to highlight the talented musicians in all five of the district's jazz bands, Shellhammer said.

The following year, a featured guest artist was added and the event has since drawn many jazz greats from around the Columbus area and beyond, she said.

Musicians such as Jim Rupp (drums), Wes Orr (trumpet), Michael Cox (tenor sax) and jazz educator Jamey Aebersold have all performed as guest artists at the festival.

This year, Shellhammer said, the festival is thrilled to host Azzara, a pianist, arranger, author and educator who is an innovator in music teaching and learning.

Azzara performs as both a soloist and member of various ensembles and has played on and produced many studio and educational recordings. He has presented and performed throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Australia, according to his website.

Before joining the Eastman faculty, Azzara was a professor at the Hartt School of Music, Dance, and Theatre of the University of Hartford, Connecticut.

Azzara will present a clinic for all jazz band students at the high school Monday, March 18, as well as to the entire district's school music staff Tuesday, March 19.

The jazz band program at Gahanna Lincoln High School was started in 1960 by Robert Kessler, director of the school's bands from 1955-85.

In 1987, a second jazz group was added at the high school level. Now jazz bands can be found at all three Gahanna middle schools, Shellhammer said.

All five of the current jazz bands are supported by the Gahanna Lincoln Instrumental Music Boosters and the district's board of education.

They meet for practice before the school day begins, and participation in the high school groups earns the musicians credit toward graduation, according to Shellhammer.

Judy Hengstebeck, the district's communications coordinator, said the jazz programs at the middle schools and high school are spectacular.

"The All-District Jazz Festival is a terrific way to showcase all levels of our jazz program in one performance," she said. "It is so interesting to see the progression from middle school through high school. Not only is there a natural evolution in musical skills, but confidence and pride in their craft have grown and are present in the showmanship of our high school students.

"Enjoying the performances of our high school musicians is such an inspiration for our middle school students who are just now deciding whether or not to pursue musical instruction at the high school level."

The All-District Jazz Festival is free and open to the public.

The jazz bands will conclude the academic year at 7:30 p.m. April 26 in the Lincoln High School cafeteria with a casual evening of jazz featuring the class of 2019.

That event also will be free and open to the public but all are encouraged to bring an item for donation to Gahanna Residents In Need.