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September 25
1970 - Lagasse family helps save Mentryville buildings as Newhall and Malibu brush fires erupt & join into worst fire in SoCal history. Twelve fires over 10 days burn 525,000 acres, kill 13 people and destroy approx. 1,500 structures. [story]


The annual R.K. Downs Jazz Festival  will swing on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at  West Ranch High School starting at 4 p.m.

Featuring top jazz ensembles from William S. Hart Union High School District schools, the festival is hosted this year by West Ranch. In previous years, the event was held at COC.

The Downs Festival is open to the public, and admission is free.

The festival was established by noted composer/arranger and longtime COC music educator Stewart “Dirk” Fischer to recognize the immense contribution of Robert K. Downs, a music educator who laid the foundation for the high-caliber music programs in the Hart District and COC.

Starting at Hart High School, when it was the only district high school, Downs grew the music program into a successful, highly regarded, award-winning program, particularly in the area of jazz, where his influence extended beyond the district, and helped high school jazz bands develop a more contemporary style of playing.

Downs went on to establish the music department at COC, eventually serving as Fine Arts Department Chair. Many of his students gone on to play professionally or semi-professionally, and his work resulted in bringing into the community other high quality music educators, among them Larry Thornton, a long-time band director at Hart High, and Fischer, who took over the jazz program at COC. All three men have had a great impact on generations of student musicians.

Fischer, who led the COC Jazz department for 27 years before semi-retiring in 2005, established the R.K. Downs Jazz Festival in the 1970s as recognition and appreciation of Downs, and to bring together local high school jazz bands to play in an informal, friendly atmosphere as a prelude to the competitive spring season.

“Bob Downs did more to establish the quality and popularity of the music programs in this valley than any other single person,” said Bob Babko, retired director of Jazz Studies at West Ranch, and former director of Instrumental Music at Valencia High School. Babko believes the Downs Festival is “a musical tradition in this valley well worth preserving.”

For more information, contact Brian Leff, West Ranch director of Jazz Studies, at 661-222-1220, ext. 645 or bleff@hartdistrict.org.

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