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Pops ‘n Jazz Extravaganza Returning to Hall High School Stage

Hall High School Concert Jazz Band. Courtesy of Hall High School PnJ

Hall High School performers will take the stage beginning March 15 for the 66th Pops ‘n Jazz Extravaganza.

By Ronni Newton

Those who attend the upcoming 66th annual “Pops ‘N Jazz” at West Hartford’s Hall High School will “hit the jackpot” as singers, dancers, musicians, and actors take the stage for the glitz- and glamour-filled Las Vegas-themed extravaganza that opens March 15, 2024.

“This year we invite audiences to join us for a Las-Vegas themed evening with our incredible group of over 100 award-winning student performers, and an amazing roster of internationally-recognized professional guest artists, including a recent Grammy winner,” parent volunteers Liz Latif Mulready and Jennifer Shagensky said. “As always, we will welcome musicians and singers from West Hartford’s elementary and middle schools on select evenings, and we are again offering one Sunday matinee performance.”

Among the groups that will appear on stage is Hall’s Concert Jazz Band, which just last month won the prestigious Mingus Festival & Competition in New York City. The group not only took first place for “Best Big Band,” but was also honored for the best brass section and best rhythm section. Also as part of the weekend’s competition, Hall student Pri Magavi was the winner of a $25,000 scholarship to the New School, and Hall’s Jeremy Baun was awarded a $15,000 scholarship to the New School.

Magavi, Baun, Chloe Madrak, and Adam Ward received outstanding soloist awards. The students performed during the first set of the Mingus Big Band on Sunday night.

Audiences will be dazzled by the performances of Hall’s acclaimed jazz bands, singers, dancers and actors, with evening performances beginning March 15, and additional performances on March 16, 21, 22, and 23. The curtain rises for the evening performances at 7:30 p.m., with doors opening at 7 p.m.

In addition, a 50-minute abridged, family-friendly matinee is scheduled for Sunday, March 17, beginning at 2 p.m., which will feature a small sampling of the evening performances.

Hall High School Jazz Band II. Courtesy of Hall High School PnJ

Hall’s Concert Jazz Band, Jazz Band, Jazz Dancers, Choraliers (singers), and I Giovani Solisti (strings) will offer selections that include an array of American jazz classics from all eras. Pieces will be performed in big band settings as well as highly choreographed jazz productions, and will include featured solo performances.

“Audiences will be knocked out with one of our most exciting musical offerings in the past 10 years, representing a great variety of jazz, Broadway, and contemporary artists encompassing our incredibly strong 100-plus student cast,” said James Antonucci, Hall High School’s director of Bands and Jazz Bands. “This will only continue the amazing lineage of Hall’s 66-year tradition of Pops ‘n Jazz,” he said of the “PnJ in Vegas” themed event.

“The show is known for its eclectic blend of music, ranging from traditional and progressive jazz, to pop-rock and Broadway. Take a gamble and attend multiple times as the program varies slightly each night,” an announcement of the event states. “Audiences will be treated to traditional jazz repertoire such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, NY Voices, Horace Silver, Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones, Billy Strayhorn, Jim McNeely, and Charles Mingus. Broadway-style selections from Lippa’s Wild Party and Frankie Valli’s Beggin’, along with contemporary, cutting-edge artists such as Lawrence and David Davis are included. And no trip under the neon would be complete without selections from today’s great Las Vegas strip performers: Lady Gaga and Michael Bublé!”

Antonucci is producing the show in collaboration with Spencer Bazzano, Hall High School’s Theater director and StageCraft teacher. The Designer/Builder is Austen Lindberg, and the Audio Engineer/Designer is Rob Treloar.

Hall Director of Choirs Dr. Stuart You0nse is director of the Choraliers, while Kate Morran directs the Jazz Dancers and Sarah Avery is costume designer. Many Hall High School parents, teachers, and staff have spent countless hours bringing the extravaganza to fruition.

Professional musicians who will appear on stage this year include Broadway and screen actress Emily Bautista (March 15); Grammy award-winning jazz singer/songwriter, pianist, and arranger Nicole Zuraitis (March 16); accomplished trombonist, composer, and music educator Dion Tucker (March 21); and Zaccai Curtis, a professor of music at the University of Hartford who is also an author, composer, and arranger, and performer with his group “Zaccai Curtis Quartet” and “Sonido Solar” (March 22). Participation of guest performers is supported by the Ellen Jeanne Goldfarb Memorial Charitable Trust.

“Hall Junior Artists” from the district’s elementary schools will also join the high schoolers on stage for select performances. On March 16, students from Norfeldt, Charter Oak International Academy, Aiken, and Bugbee will perform, and the March 22 show will include students from Smith STEM, Whiting Lane, and Morley.

Middle school singers and musicians will also perform, including Bristow Middle School’s Big Band on March 15, King Philip Middle School’s KP Singers on March 16, and the King Philip Middle School Jazz Band on March 21, and KP’s Sixth Dimension on March 23. “The involvement of these younger students with exemplary older students is part of the West Hartford Public School District’s effort to inspire excellence and commitment to the arts,” organizers said.

Hall’s former band director, Bill Stanley, originated Pops ‘n Jazz in 1958. Hall has since been known as one of the first high schools in the U.S. to integrate jazz into its daily curriculum, and the school and district have achieved acclaim both on the national and international stage.

In addition to the recent honors at the Charles Mingus Festival, honors have included the district’s recognition with Kennedy Center Award for Excellence in Arts Education, the Hall Concert Jazz Band performing in the national finals of the Essentially Ellington Competition at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis on more than 15 occasions, winning the prestigious festival twice and also achieving more than 50 individual outstanding student soloist and section awards over the years.

The Hall Concert Jazz Band has been recognized as a national Downbeat Student Music Award winner from 2020 to 2023, and has earned more than 30 first-place finishes at the Berklee School of Music Jazz Festival in Boston over its 50-year festival history. Hall has also achieved multiple first-place finishes, in various categories, at the National Jazz Festival and in 2015 the Choraliers won the “Together in Song” regional choral award through WGBY in Massachusetts.

Individual Hall student have achieved success in their musical careers, and alumni include renowned jazz musicians Kris Allen (alto sax, performed at Pops ‘n Jazz 2023), Jimmy Macbride (drums), Garrett Sayers (bass), Drew Sayers (sax), Richie Barshay (drums), Joel Frahm (tenor sax), Erika von Kleist (alto sax, flute, and piccolo), Brad Mehldau (piano), Pete McGuinness (trombone), Noah Preminger (tenor sax), Alexa Tarantino (alto sax), and Gregg Kallor (piano).

Tickets to Pops ‘n Jazz, for assigned seats, are available online here. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students; tickets to the Sunday matinee are $10. Tickets can also be purchased in person at the Hall High School box office beginning March 4. Box office hours are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from noon-2:30 p.m., and Wednesday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. The box office opens at 6 p.m. on performance nights.

To stay up-to-date with Pops ‘N Jazz, follow the show on Facebook and Instagram (@popsnjazz). For more information, call the box office at 860-929-5151 or visit hallhighjazz.com.

A preview of Pops ‘N Jazz can be seen on YouTube below, courtesy of Craig Diamond, Educational Technology Specialist and Webmaster for West Hartford Public Schools.

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