Program Overview – The Student Jazz Combo Competition (SJCC), is a free program created by Healdsburg Jazz to empower Sonoma County musicians in grades 9-12 to explore their creativity by forming small groups for a juried competition. Working in collaboration with teachers and administrator, SJCC will recruited music teachers and high school student musicians to form ensembles of up to six members to select and create material that reflects their personal vision of jazz.

To support that creative process, SJCC provided professional musicians to coach/mentor students.  In the process, students learned basic improvisation and small-combo dynamics formed groups and rehearsed for over three months in preparation for the competition   Each group/school worked closely with a designated liaison from the Healdsburg Jazz organizations staff. Jessica Felix was the program director and Kendrick Freeman the musicians coordinator.

SJCC addressed the goals of access, equity and opportunity and provided this region with the incentive and encouragement students needed to experience the exhilaration of improvising in a smaller ensemble. Based on the premise that small combos are singularly suited for experiencing the true spirit of jazz, our goal was to encourage the groups to feel the excitement and fulfillment that accompanies improvisation and collaboration that exists among groups of dedicated musicians.

The combo format created opportunities for young musicians to perform solos and take risks that concert play or marching band membership seldom affords them. They experimented with leadership while exploring what the music offers,  moving beyond simply reading the notes on a piece of paper to experiencing the feeling of jazz, and playing from the heart. The combo should play as a team that includes not only technique but also spirit and camaraderie to be successful.


  • Use music as a unifying force.
  • Develop their own voices as musicians.
  • Work together and learn the collaborative effort of playing in a jazz ensemble.
  • To showcase the talents of Sonoma County High School music students to the wider community.
  • To have professional musicians mentor young music students.
  • To expand the audience for jazz music,
  • To continuously reach out into the community to find students with curiosity and talent and engage them in the creative process, which is the most important factor of playing jazz.


  • Eligibility: Sonoma County high school student musicians in grades 9-12.
  • Combos are formed by students, up to six members per group. This is an instrumental program, and at this time does not include an individual vocalist.
  • Students in the groups were not required come from the same school as long as they were Sonoma County High School students. Some schools do not have music programs or jazz band and HJ helped facilitate interaction between students and schools.
  • Bands evolved and changed –
  • Program is committed to expanding improvisational skills and small combo dynamics.
  • Players select and/or compose their own music.
  • Players received mentorship from professional musicians.
  • Players rehearsed regularly during school, after school,
  • Combos participate will in competitive in a friendly and supportive competition on April 22, at Glaser Center in Santa Rosa.

Students will continuously receive positive feedback and advice, including after they perform on April 22. There will be clinicians that will talk with the band after the play.


  • Open to all high school students from Sonoma County.
  • No entry fee.
  • 2018 event scheduled for April 21 (see this page)
  • Juried by professional musicians.
  • Repertoire criteria included in application.
  • Audience composed of family, friends, and the community.
  • Prizes:
    • First Place – $1,000 and opportunity to open for headliner at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival
    • Second and Third Places – $500 and $250

Performance Requirements

  • Upon check-in for the competition, the Band Leader or School Director shall provide the completed “Band Repertoire Form” that to be distributed later on. The form should include the names of the soloists, tunes, composers, etc.

The performance rules are as follows:

  • On-stage time may not exceed 30 minutes including set-up, performance, breakdown and exit.
  • The entire performance must be jazz-oriented. At least one tune must have a swing feel.
  • Selections must be of contrasting styles (i.e., Swing Jazz, Bebop Jazz, Latin Jazz, or Funk Jazz, original compositions).
  • Combos are encouraged to vary the tempo of the selections and demonstrate the use of dynamics.

School and Community Support

  • Each combo will need to have a school sponsoring them. Band teachers, music teachers or administrators can be sponsors. Amount of involvement is voluntary.
  • Schools can help by informing, supporting and encouraging students to participate, provide advice and guidance plus other resources to students as appropriate, (e.g., space for rehearsals).
  • Administration may authorize use of school facilities and/or provide venue for the competition (Our grants require us to work closely with school administration and band directors.)
  • Students can also choose to rehearse after school and weekends at offsite locations.
  • Professional Musicians: serve as mentors to combos; attend combo rehearsals; develop judging criteria and procedures.

Program Impact & Evaluation

  • The performances will be the primary evidence of program impact and effectiveness.
  • Video recordings of performances and rehearsals will serve as evidence of program impact.
  • All participants, including students and their families, band teachers, musician mentors and judges, and community members will be asked to take a survey to help evaluate the SJCC program’s effectiveness and solicit general beneficial feedback.


  • Healdsburg Jazz acts as School Coordinator to communicate with band directors and administrators.
  • Musician Coordinator serves as a liaison between the student combos and the mentoring musicians.
  • The Healdsburg Jazz Artistic Director assumes overall administrative responsibility for the Program including event production, promotion, etc.


The program is funded by grants from the California Arts Council and the Sonoma County Community Foundation Arts and Education Fund.

More about the Student Jazz Combo Competition: