The campus was alive with the sound of music Saturday, from sunrise to sunset and beyond. It was the 35th annual Folsom High School Jazz Festival, an iconic event when it comes to youth jazz competition.

Some 115 bands, choirs and combinations participated in Saturday’s event. The festival packed five different facilities on campus, including its theater, band rooms, library and other spaces. The concept was a vision that longtime music program director Curtis Gaesser made a reality. Gaesser recited from full time teaching last year, passing the baton to Gaw Vang Williams, who worked along side him for several years. Saturday was the first annual festival on Williams’ watch.


“This event is a huge undertaking, but Curtis had a vision in it and he spent 35-years dialing it down so by now it goes really well and we were well prepared,” said Williams. “Of course we had a mishap here and there, you always will have that with any event this size, but we have a great team that runs this event and makes it all work so well.

The annual festival is put on by the Folsom High School Music Boosters each year. It is one of several events and fundraisers and takes place just a month after its annual Holiday Festival of the Arts. The event is made possible by nearly 200 volunteers who help organize the event and manage it throughout the entire day.


When it comes to the “team,” Williams was referring to, it is those many volunteers of the of Music Boosters, as well as the students themselves who help organize and set up the event, as well as help take it all down when it is over.

“The boosters knew exactly what to do with everything, we just have an incredible team,” said Williams. “They were buzzing all day long, from running the snack bar, running the venues, doing all of the signs and everything it takes. Not to mention all of the students that whole heatedly believe in this and helped set up all of Friday and even some on Thursday  They know what it’s all about. I am truly blessed to step into something so organized like this to make the transition a lot more at ease.”


At each of the different locations across the campus, a team of judges watched the various performances, which are organized by division. All together, more than 20 judges worked the event Saturday. This year, there was one familiar face amongst the panel as Gaesser returned and took a role, judging the AAA and AAAA jazz bands who performed in the Folsom High School Theater that he pretty much called home for over three decades before his retirement.


See the COMPLETE viewable and downloadable results of the entire day by clicking here.

The annual event draws bands from middle schools and high schools across the state, some travel from as far as Truckee down the mountain, others come from communities near the Bay Area such as Dublin and more.  Locally, this year saw locally based bands and combinations from Rancho Cordova, Granite Bay, Oak Ridge in El Dorado Hills, Placer, Rocklin, West Park and Woodcreek high schools. Folsom High School performed as the host of the event, Folsom and Sutter Middle Schools were also among the inner city and local district competitors. 


“For a whole month I wasn’t sure how it would all turn out, you can plan something over and over, but there is always something that can come up,” said Williams “I think what Curtis and I both have in common is we both plan for the worst so we are prepared for anything.  In this case it could be losing a student due to being ill or a sound issue or something like that.  If you prepare yourself for those types of things, you are always ready and when it goes well, that’s even better.”

Local school highlights of this year’s results included Amador Valley High School topping the Division 4A standings at the end of the day, following by Downey High, Dublin, Livermore, Valley Christian, Sheldon, Heritage, Lincoln and Oak Ridge High School. Amador also took the top spot in the Combo A division. 

In Combo B, Dublin, Maria Carillo and Rodriguez High Schools took the top three spots. Local entry Granite Bay place 6th in this division. El Cerrito High School topped Division 3 A. West Park High took top honors in Division 1A while Concord topped the 2A Division, in this division local Cordova placed 11th with Rocklin 12th.  Division 3A highlights included El Cerrito taking first place over Nothgate and Albany. Granite Bay placed 5th in Division 3A with Woodcreek taking 6thplace.  

See the COMPLETE viewable and downloadable results of the entire day by clicking here.

In the middle school competition, Folsom’s own Sutter Middle School took the top spot in the division. Depoali Middle School took second place ahead of Barbara Chilton Middle School.

At the end of the day, awards were presented and the event was dubbed a success by the Music Boosters, all of which worked into the evening to tear down and pack everything up to return the Folsom campus back to its normal state and be ready for classes to resume on Monday. According to Williams, it was possible one of their most successful festivals when it came to fundraising this year.

“This was probably the most fundraising success we have seen on this event in it’s 35 years I believe,” said Williams. “I haven’t seen the final outcome, but from what I have heard it was really good. Aside from being a fundraiser, it’s about providing all of these opportunities for students to have a competitive and enriching experience which is what its all about.”

Folsom Jazz Festival was first under watch of new music director Williams

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. Photos by Deirdre Fitzgerald.

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 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.”

William has a stellar bio and background in music. 

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.”

Highlights from the 35th Folsom High Jazz Festival – Photos by Deirdre Fitzgerald

Bill Sullivan
Author: Bill Sullivan

Bill Sullivan has over 25 years of professional journalism and content creation experience in which he has earned 37 professional awards. He is the co-founder/publisher of Folsom Times an All Town Media LLC product.