Saturday’s Folsom Jazz Festival marked the 35th anniversary of the long successful event. It also was the first under the direction of Folsom High School band director Gaw Vang Williams.  

Williams is in the midst of her first year in her position with the Folsom Cordova Unified School District and Folsom High School, a role she took on when longtime director and colleague Curtiss Gaesser, retired at the end of the 2023 school year. 


Prior to his retirement, Williams worked closely with Gaesser, before taking on the task of filling his shoes, at his request, in the very successful music program. Amongst the many hats she wears with those shoes, Williams teaches marching band, jazz band A and Jazz Band B, Jazz choir, and orchestra. 

“This entire thing has been a humbling experience for me, nobody really ever prepares you for an opportunity like this.,” said Williams. “I am honored to have been scouted for this role and being in it now. It was three years ago we first had a conversation about me taking this position.  The fact that he (Gaesser) believed in me has made for a very healthy transition.”


When anyone takes a leadership role in a long successful program or organization, there is always a transition period. During that period, the new person in the role is adjusting, right along with everyone around them. For Williams, that has a involved a great amount of people, consisting of students and parents alike. In an interview with Folsom Times, Williams said the transition has been nothing but welcoming on all fronts. 

“The parents and the students have been nothing but welcoming,” she said. “There is always challenges, whether its navigating funding, boosters, schedules, and everything. But the students attitudes, optimism and enthusiasm for the for the program and their respect for me has been great, I just love these kids, they are all incredible, they are great human beings and they have worked really hard at this.”


Williams has a stellar bio and background in music education

Gaw Vang Williams (above) took the lead role of Folsom High School’s Music program at the start of the 2023-24 school year. Photo by Bill Sullivan. Top photo: Saturday’s 35th Jazz Festival was the first for Williams since taking the baton of the school’s program. Photo by Deirdre Fitzgerald.

She is a vocalist and educator who is a Sacramento area native.  She became the director of the vocal jazz program at Sacramento State in 2014, where she earned her Bachelor of Music in jazz studies and Master of Music in voice performance. 


Williams began teaching in 2004, according to her music program bio, serving as a music instructor at various high schools and music organizations. In addition to her role in Folsom, Williams is an active private music instructor. She is often sought after as a clinician and adjudicator for festivals and workshops throughout the United States.

 She has served as the president of the California Alliance for Jazz (CAJ) and is the vocal jazz clinician for the Monterey Jazz Festival. 


Additional noteworthy highlights of her successful career in music, Williams was member of the Sacramento Mandarins from 2004-2006 and was a member of the 2007 world-champion Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps. She performs at numerous venues throughout Northern California.  Professional appearances as an assisting artist include live performances with Nancy King, New York Voices, Ben Folds, and the San Francisco Symphony. 

Ensembles under Williams have won over 13 Downbeat Magazine Student Awards. In addition, her ensembles took first multiple times at the Next Generation Monterey Jazz Festival and were invited to perform at the world-renowned Monterey Jazz Festival, JEN (Jazz Education Network) National Conference, ACDA National Conference, CCDA Conference, and CASMEC. 

While she has taken Gaesser’s position this year, Williams continues to work with the longtime educator. On Saturday, Gaesser was back on campus, Curtiss Gaesser took a role, judging the AAA and AAAA jazz band divisions. 

Additionally, just over a year ago, they become co-founder of Live Performing Arts Academy, a non-profit music organization for providing music education and experiences for students in need.  The Academy will be holding its second festival style competition later this year at Folsom’s Palladio. 

As she lowers the baton on her first successful Jazz Festival, Williams is ready for the next one and says she truly feels “at home.”

“I have felt at home through this entire transition,” said Williams. “You know my husband was a Folsom High graduate who was in Jazz band and that program truly saved his life. I want to see it continue to change lives for years to come.”

TOP FEATURE PHOTO: Saturday’s 35th Jazz Festival was the first for Gaw Vang Williams since taking the baton of Folsom High School’s music program following the retirement of Curtis Gaesser last year. Feature photo by Dierdre Fitzgerald.