Three heavy hitters from the world of jazz headline the 24th annual Temple College Jazz Festival this weekend, joined by hundreds of students from colleges, junior and senior high schools.

More than 40 separate ensembles and soloists will take the stage at TC’s Performing Arts Center. Harker Heights High School has one of the more impressive showings, with both the varsity and junior varsity string ensembles gamely taking on the traditional wind-instrument/percussion-based big bands that predominate the festival.

“This is our fourth year to participate, and we’re the only strings program there,” said HHHS orchestra conductor Jeremy Cameron. Groups have the option of a panel of judges’ comments and ratings, “and we always take advantage of their evaluations — they are professional jazz musicians. One of the four judges works with our students after judging and the tips and techniques they teach the kids are great.”

This year’s guest artist with the highest national profile is tonight’s headliner, saxophonist Bob Mintzer. Born in 1953, he attended Hartt College of Music in Hartford, Conn., on a clarinet scholarship, and played and recorded with artists as varied as Tito Puente, James Taylor, Buddy Rich, Bobby McFerrin and the New York Philharmonic. Since 2008, Mintzer has lived in Los Angeles and performs with his quartet and big band, as well as the Yellowjackets.

Cameron pointed out the cross-pollenization of musical genres, noting “our (varsity ensemble) drummer is a violinist in the group, normally, and one of our viola players doubles on guitar — our pianist usually plays violin.” And that merging of disciplines is one of the festival’s biggest benefits, he said.

“It’s the experience to perform in nontraditional styles — that’s what increases each musician’s skills.”

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