Generations of musicians have honed their skills at the school since original music director Rey Vinole founded the program in 1974. Helmed today by alumni Jean-Paul “JP” Balmat, the program continues to expand, with the school’s best musicians taking part in up to 40 performances around the state each year.
Funding for the arts is still a struggle at best. So on Saturday, May 18, the MBHS Music Department will hold its third annual “Jazz on the Green” mini music festival at the school.
The New Orleans-inspired event will include all three of the school’s music groups, including the Jazz Ensemble, the Concert Jazz Band and the Preservationists, with the Euphoria Brass Band closing with a tribute to New Orleans.
Open to all ages, the event includes crafts, activities for children, swing dancing and food from local restaurants. Additionally, the school’s farmers market will offer up a variety of treats.
“This event is really a kind of showcase for Mission Bay and the beautiful quad area that we have,” Balmat said. “In the past, Jazz on the Green has really brought the community together. It’s a nice cross-section of people that attend: parents from middle schools, elementary schools and, of course, the high schools, as well as people who just read or see information about our concerts in the local press. It’s wonderful, all these different people coming to celebrate these young musicians at a really great venue. It’s really one of the most beautiful venues that I’d ever want to play in.”
According to Balmat, events like this are crucial to keeping the music program going. He’s also quick to note a lot of public support.
“The community has been amazing,” he said. “They helped send our students to New Orleans last year and make it a point to be at our performances. Organizations like the Mission Beach Woman’s Club, Friends of Pacific Beach Secondary Schools and our longtime sponsors, America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society, have played a huge part in our success.”
Balmat said he considers music programs to be a vital part of a student’s education, teaching them to “work hard in music so they can become better, not so they can pass a test.”
“Jazz also teaches a lot about their history,” he noted. “Jazz is an American-born art form that follows the progression of some of our most challenging times in our country. It’s important for me that students see the connection. It makes them more educated performers.”
While most concert guests will only notice the fine music being played on the day, Balmat notes its all an intensive team effort.
“It’s hard!” he said good-naturedly. “There is a lot of work practicing, setting up performances, working individually with kids, fundraising for new supplies, keeping up our image in the community and state. It never stops. I go nonstop all day, every day. There is always something to do. I’m just lucky I work in such a rewarding profession and the students really make it worthwhile.”
• Jazz on the Green: Saturday, May 18 at Mission Bay High School, 2475 Grand Ave. at noon. All ages. $10 adults, $5 students/children. www.missionbaymusic.com.