Jazz in the Park features seasoned and up-and-coming stars

Last year, high school students from the Las Vegas Academy Jazz Combo opened for artists at the Clark County Parks and Recreation Jazz in the Park concert series. They considered it an honor just to be part of the tradition. This year, at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater, they will perform alongside three of the headliners.

“This is absolutely one of the most joyous moments in our program’s history,” says Patrick Bowen, instructor and leader of the Las Vegas Academy Jazz Combo. “Three of the greatest artists on Earth are coming to play with our kids.”

Vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, who won Grammy and Tony awards, will be the first to perform with the Jazz Combo Saturday. The Jeff Hamilton Trio, whose namesake has worked with Diana Krall and Rosemary Clooney, will follow May 18 and Tom Scott, a Blues Brothers Band founder, will close the Jazz Combo’s run May 25.

Earl Klugh, jazz guitarist and composer, continues the Jazz in the Park series June 1 and Pete Escovedo, accomplished Latin jazz musician and Sheila E’s father, closes it out June 8.

With showtime inching closer and closer, the Jazz Combo has been practicing as many as two hours daily to prepare for its three big performances. A case of the jitters hasn’t hit yet, and Bowen doesn’t expect it will.

“Our kids are really self-motivated,” he says. “They’ve really got it together.”

That could explain the kudos they’ve received through the years. They’ve consistently placed at the prestigious Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival, which honors top high school and college jazz groups. They’ve won Best in State at the Reno Jazz Festival and just won another DownBeat Student Music Award.

They’ve had statewide and national recognition, yet Bowen claims, no one in Las Vegas knows about them. The Jazz in the Park concerts could change all that. It’s an opportunity to show locals that just because it’s a high school jazz group doesn’t mean it can’t provide first-rate entertainment.

While the Las Vegas Academy musicians look forward to the opportunity, they realize the weight that comes with it.

“Every (featured) artist has their own repertoire, a whole other music literature,” Bowen says. “We have to learn to adapt to all the different styles. There’s a certain amount of feel and technique that comes into it.”

But he’s confident they’ll pull it off when the time comes.

“I’m just thrilled they want to take on the challenge and develop into professional musicians,” he says. “These kids are going to hang with pros, which is great.”

Contact Xazmin Garza at or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.

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