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Star power

When Jean and Vern Crawford approached the Ashland Schools Foundation about turning money donated to honor their late son into an endowment, their hope was that it would be used to compensate local musicians willing to offer their time and expertise to Ashland students.

That would be the kind of experience, they figured, which could spark a kid’s interest and encourage him or her to follow their dreams, just like Kipp Crawford, a talented and successful drummer, did before he was killed by a drunk driver in 2009.

Ashland High School director of bands Travis Moddison, who was charged with finding a willing musician on which to spend the endowment this school year, had hoped that whomever agreed would participate in the Ashland Jazz Festival and other related activities, but that would mean a hefty three-day commitment. The fact that Moddison was able to book somebody shouldn’t come as a shock — there are, after all, plenty of career percussionists in the Rogue Valley — but the name of the drummer he found probably will. That’s because when an all-star big band and the AHS jazz band take the Mountain Avenue Theatre stage Feb. 10 for the Ashland Jazz Festival, they’ll be performing to the legendary beat of Journey drummer Steve Smith.

A Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Smith was ranked the 36th greatest rock and roll drummer of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and is still considered one of the best in the world. He also happens to live in Ashland.

“I’m thrilled,” Jean Crawford said. “I’m not a musician and I don’t follow these things in detail, so I had to look him up on the web, and I’m just amazed. Clearly it’s a wonderful opportunity. And that he lives in Ashland is way cool because there’s no way the fund could pay for somebody to come.”

Donors contributed a little over $11,000 to the memorial before ASF turned the donations into the Kipp Crawford Memorial Endowment Fund (donations can be made by visiting ashlandschoolsfoundation.org, clicking on the ”How to Contribute” drop down menu then clicking on “Memorial Funds”). The Crawfords had hoped the fund would pay out enough to cover at least one music-themed educational experience each year, but didn’t think bringing in somebody of Smith’s caliber was even remotely possible.

Moddison had an in, though — namely, Terry Longshore, the professor of music at the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University and friend of Smith. Through Longshore, Moddison was able to contact Smith via email. Smith wanted to know more and soon Moddison, who’s been at AHS since 2014, was pitching his idea. It’s a phone call he remembers vividly.

“He was just super kind, super humble,” Moddison said of Smith. “Here’s a super rock star — he’s like the rockest of rock stars — and he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’ I’m like, 'what?' … and I put the phone down and was jumping up and down.”

Smith’s not phoning it in, either. Besides about six hours worth of rehearsals, he’ll be heading up clinics at both Ashland High School and Ashland Middle School, and will be bringing his own drum kits to both for demonstrations.

“They’ll be able to ask questions like, ‘How did you develop your sound?’” Moddison said. “He’ll talk about his listening process and he’ll talk about his approach to practice and the discipline that it takes. … And the kids are — no pun intended — jazzed up about it and they want to have a great event. And now it’s like, 'kaboom.'"

Smith’s involvement in the jazz festival is only the first of three high-profile band events the high school is organizing over the next year and a half, with the first two serving as fundraisers for the third. On July 5, AHS will host a Drum Corps International exhibition which will be held at Southern Oregon University’s Raider Stadium. Proceeds from both the jazz festival and the DCI performance will go toward a planned spring 2019 road trip to Honolulu, Hawaii, where Ashland High’s entire music department — more than 100 students — will compete in the Pacific Rim Festival.

“As far as I can tell the band hasn’t taken a trip of this size,” Moddison said. “The orchestra has, to China. But that’s always been like 20 to 25 kids. This is the whole music department.”

The DCI performance, which may also include a band from Santa Clara, California, was born somewhat unexpectedly during a car ride when Moddison, who judges band corps events during the summer, was asked by a band corps director if Ashland could host a competition. This year’s event will not be competitive, but Moddison is hopeful that it will become an annual tradition which will turned into a competition starting in 2020.

This year, the bands, which are made up of musicians ages 14 to 21, will spend a few days in Ashland before the event itself. During their stay, they’ll be rehearsing at AHS and, Moddison hopes, marching in Ashland’s Fourth of July parade.

“There will be a drum corps rehearsal on the field here, so our kids can go watch them rehearse,” Moddison said. “The whole community can come and watch them.

“It’s a big deal, but it’s a good deal. I think it’s good for the community and I think it’ll help the kids, too, in terms of us getting to Hawaii. And watching people perform at that level is good recruiting. It’s also just great for a kid who’s passionate about that kind of thing to see what excellence looks like.”

The more people come to watch the bands perform in July the better, Moddison said, because the Hawaii trip, tentatively scheduled to last seven days, will cost about $2,000 per student. For that, they’ll get a week on Waikiki Beach and memories that’ll last a lifetime. Bands from all over the world — past participants hailed from New Zealand and China — will be there, and the itinerary includes a clinic, a festival performance and, Moddison’s personal favorite, an exchange rehearsal during which Ashland students will be paired with a band from another country and the two groups will take turns playing each other’s music.

The Ashland group will have some down time, too, which will be used in part to visit Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.

“I have a number of friends who have done this (Hawaii) trip,” Moddison said, “and they’re all like, ‘You have to do it.’ I think they’ve all really enjoyed their experience and for the kids, the exchange rehearsal is one that I’ve heard is just incredible. And the chance to go and be at Pearl Harbor, that’s pretty cool, too.”

 Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.