Dozens of large, peculiarly shaped black cases are carried in and out of the Eliza R. Snow Performing Arts Center every week. Students race to carefully store and transport their gleaming gold and silver brass contraptions between classes while the halls fill with the clicking of combination locks, sweet melodies and bold compositions.

Skilled musicians manipulate strings, keys, valves and mouthpieces that combine to form ornate devices. Young artists gather to listen and learn from Melissa Aldana, a Grammy-nominee and the first Latin American female to win the Monk competition. She has spent years learning how to make the saxophone sing.

“The more I practice, the more free I feel,” says Aldana as she gazes at the rows of students assembled. “I’m not necessarily practicing patterns. I’m just constantly learning harmony, or learning a new tune, or learning a ballad or just trying to grind.”

Aldana teaches in her workshop

Aldana teaches in her workshop. Photo credit: Emily Ormston

The crowd is still as they focus on the knowledge Aldana has to offer.

Workshops were held from Thursday to Saturday for 13 visiting schools from surrounding areas. Students learned different techniques to further their musical skills from Aldana and other clinicians and educators.

On Saturday evening, Jazz Fest concluded with a concert in the BYU-Idaho Center. The program included the Jazz Honor Band with Dr. Roosevelt Griffin III, a small group set of faculty, visiting musicians, alumni, Sound Alliance, Vocal Union and an alumni jazz band with Dr. Mark Watkins. The alumni band played one of Watkins’ original pieces “I Don’t Got Nothing But Nothing.”

Dr. Mark Watkins walks across stage after conducting (on the left)

Dr. Mark Watkins walks across stage after conducting (on the left). Photo credit: Emily Ormston

“Dr. Watkins has been the heart and soul of this jazz program for so many years,” announced Aaron Miller, the Jazz Fest director, from the stage. “We are so grateful for everything that he does for us and all the sacrifice that he puts into this program.”

Watkins has led Sound Alliance for the entirety of his tenure at BYU-I.

Michael Michelsen and Rebekah Grober, members of Sound Alliance, shared their experiences after the concert.

Dr. Aaron Miller conducts Sound Alliance

Dr. Aaron Miller conducts Sound Alliance. Photo credit: Emily Ormston

“We had a combos masterclass yesterday, and we basically performed for (Aldana),” said Michelsen. “It really made me focus more on what jazz actually sounds like and why it sounds so good.”

Grober felt a connection to Aldana as a fellow woman in the industry.

“Every time I’m with a guest artist, it’s a woman. There’s less of us in jazz. There’s three of (us) in the band right now (out of) 20 or 17” said Grober. “I just feel like they are really breaking the stereotype and being amazing at what they do. I think (Aldana’s) so cool.”

Aldana performs with visiting guests and faculty

Aldana performs with visiting guests and faculty. Photo credit: Emily Ormston

Aaron Miller, the Jazz Fest director and conductor of Sound Alliance shared his gratitude that Aldana was able to teach and perform.

“This was a really magical day for me, just being able to share the stage with Melissa, have her play with our bands and have them get to be so close to such beautiful and professional playing,” Miller said. “I think she really changed a lot of people tonight.”

Vocal Union performs with Sound Alliance

Vocal Union performs with Sound Alliance. Photo credit: Emily Ormston

Miller explained that the evening was particularly touching and moving since so many bands were able to perform. The honor band consisted of students who have come to BYU-I at some point. The alumni band consisted of students that have graduated and moved on. The faculty was able to teach and work with bands filled with students just beginning to learn how to master their instruments.

“It’s kind of a beautiful view of the past, present and future,” Miller said.