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Jazz Festival boosts local economy

7,000 attendees have hotels and businesses reporting a bump in sales
By: Art Garcia, Telegraph Correspondent
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As host of the Folsom Jazz Festival, Folsom High School plays but doesn’t compete for any of the awards. Still, the school, and the city of Folsom, came out winners. The city and local businesses raked in some dough thanks to more than 7,000 attendees. The school and its band boosters organize the large festival. With 101 high and middle school jazz bands and combos and 19 jazz vocal groups from California and Nevada entered in the day-long competition last Saturday at two venues, the 22nd annual festival grooved through a long day that began with first performers on stage minutes after 7 a.m. While the bands blew and the singers sang, local businesses were profiting from the event. “Absolutely, the festival most definitely helps. Absolutely, it’s beneficial” to the Hilton Gardens Inn in Folsom, said Nicole Wampler, general manager. Other hotels also report a ringing cash register. “It helps our business,” said Amy Bechler, general manager of Folsom’s Courtyard at Marriott. “We had a couple of participating schools staying here.” Joe Gagliardi, president and CEO of the Folsom Chamber of Commerce, who also heads the city’s tourism bureau and the Folsom Economic Development Corporation, echoed the “absolutely” praise for the jazz festival and it’s impact on local businesses and the economy. “I don’t have a measurement but it absolutely does help,” he said. “We hope in future years we’ll be able to provide a return on investment figure. Meanwhile, the jazz festival is a wonderful addition for the city. We can only see it get bigger and better.” At R.B.’s Café at the Rolling Hills Christian Church venue in El Dorado Hills, the festival is “one of our biggest events of the year,” said Joan Rexford, head barista at the shop in the church’s main building. The other festival venue is at Folsom High School. Concert competition in the 1,500-seat church and its auditorium helps subsidize the Peet’s coffee cafe for the full year. In its just over two decades, the Folsom festival is a land mark in the world of student jazz, recognized as one of the best of the nation’s music competitions for high schoolers and middle schoolers. Much of the credit is heaped on Folsom High School Music Director Curtis Gaesser, 49, who’s been at Folsom High School since 1987 and is the festival’s director and founder. The Folsom High marching band, four jazz bands, two orchestras, the concert band and two jazz choirs are under his direction. The jazz ensembles have competed in Europe and the United States, including the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the Monterey Jazz Festival, where they have picked up numerous first-place awards. Downbeat magazine, a national jazz publication, named the Folsom High Jazz Band the “Best High School Big Band” eight times since 1993 and the Jazz Choir “best” 14 times since 1994. Gaesser was honored as 1995’s “Most Outstanding Music Educator” by the California Association for Music Education, was “California State Jazz Educator of the Year” in 2003 and received Downbeat’s “Annual Achievement Award in Jazz Education” in 2008. Kirt Shearer of Fair Oaks, a judge of Saturday’s middle and high school vocal jazz groups and owner of a recording studio, termed the festival “amazing. I’ve been to many in the U.S. and Europe and this is the best run. There’s attention to detail, which is not always the case,” he said. “The planning and the coordination ¾ it’s all Curtis. This is absolutely one of the best-run festivals.” Gaesser was described as “a national treasure” by Ernie Rideout, marketing director for the Stanford Jazz Workshop, a summer jazz immersion camp on the university’s campus. “I’ve been in music 30 years and I’ve never seen a program this vibrant and strong, with this much depth and this much breadth,” Rideout said. “It’s incredible how successful he is with music groups. If I had to say go to one festival, I would say go to Folsom.” Troy Davis, music director of at Aragon High School in San Mateo, which competed in this year’s festival, called the Folsom production “a monument to festivals. It’s extremely well run, with an army of volunteer parents. It’s so big and so much going on, yet despite all that, it’s still very well run.” The Folsom High School Music Boosters, made up of music student parents, alumni and friends of the music program, sponsor the annual festival.