For the fourth year in a row, the McPherson College Jazz Festival is returning bigger, and better than ever.

Kyle Hopkins, associate professor of music and director of bands at McPherson College, said not only is this festival a chance for local bands to perform, but it’s a hands-on educational experience as well.

“We have adjudicators not only rating them, but giving them comments on their performance and then they immediately work with those adjudicators after,” he explained.

Clint Ashlock, director and conductor of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra and his quintet, will serve as adjudicators for the 400 students in 22 bands that are expected to be there that day.

Bands will perform in McPherson College's own Brown Auditorium all day prior to the evening event at the McPherson Opera House.

Hopkins explained when he first started at the college four years ago, his band was made up of only eight students, but has grown into one of the best of the best private college bands.

"This program has gone from virtually being non existent, to one of the biggest, best premiere small college bands in the state of Kansas. We have burst out and wanted to offer things to our community, and school," he said.

At 7 p.m. on Nov. 2, The McPherson College Jazz Band and the McPherson High School Jazz band will perform a warm-up set prior to Ashlock's performance at 7:30 p.m. at the McPherson Opera House, 219 S. Main St.

Tickets are available now and are $15, $20 and $5 for students.

New this year at the festival will be a jazz vocal ensemble performed by McPherson High School.

"We're even crossing the boundary into jazz vocals this festival," Hopkins laughed.

Although marching band and football are a top priority in the fall, which is not necessarily a bad thing, he wants the community to realize jazz band is still an essential part to the college.

"Jazz band gets pushed to the back burner, and they recognize we need something to lift up that opportunity as well," he said.

Ever since the start, Hopkins knew McPherson needed more opportunities for jazz band.

"I was shocked the first year I put this on, I had 17 bands come and I was shocked of the response, so this is part of the reason I'm keeping this going is that was proof to me it is a critical need for our area schools to have a really high quality jazz festival," Hopkins said.

He has seen generous responses from his students and schools that attend this festival, due to the immense amount of time and effort he puts in.

"One of the cool things we do is make jazz festival music T-shirts and each kid that participates in the festival gets a T-shirt, and when I go out and make visits, I see those shirts everywhere because those kids really love this festival," Hopkins said. "When I go out and do honor band or a clinic, kids come up to me and go, 'Man, I remember you from the jazz festival, that was awesome.’ That affirms to me that we're making a real impact.”

For more information, contact the McPherson Opera House at 620-241-1952 or visit their website at http://.mcphersonoperahouse.org.

Contact Brooke Haas by email at bhaas@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter @ MacSentinel.