By: Kortni Chung ‘18
Taking their studies to the next level, the Jazz Ensemble played off against other jazz bands at Lincoln Center on March 11.
Jazz Ensemble started out as a small club that met every Thursday after tenth period, for students who were interested in jazz music, and play percussion, bass guitar, a brass instrument, or saxophone.
Conducted by Ms. Melissa Williams, she teaches them basic jazz fundamentals and prepares them for performances inside and outside of school.
“I think this is a great opportunity for our jazz members to see where they fall down the line,” said Ms. Williams. “You’ll see jazz players who are way farther down that path than you are, and some that might not be as advanced as you are. It’s very inspirational.”
Jazz at Lincoln Center is an institution with one of the highest prominence in the world for their excellent educational programming, and dedication to preserving and advancing jazz. For the first time, our school was asked to participate in the New York City High School Jazz Invitational.
The day began on an early Saturday morning, where the group met up at school to have breakfast and some last minute practice before their big debut. Together, they took the train to Manhattan where the institution is located. Once they got there, they left their instruments and bags in a big room, and headed to a small auditorium. There, they watched other jazz bands from different schools perform, such as Staten Island Tech, James Madison, Tottenville, Brooklyn High School for the Arts, and Fordham.
“The musicians from the other schools were so good,” said drummer Nick Perez ’18. “I think watching them play shows us the possibilities of where we could be if we keep going.”
After the first few performances, the Hornets snuck out of the audience to have one last practice. Ms. Williams used the first half hour of practice time for mental rehearsal. She made her team sing their parts and tap their foot to maintain the rhythm.
“You have to think before you play, therefore singing your part helps you hear how it sounds before you pick up your instrument and play it,” said Ms. Williams.
The second half of practice was dedicated to actually playing the music. The band members huddled up into a small rehearsal room with neatly lined chairs, a keyboard, and a drum set. There, they played their three songs Groove Merchant by Jerome Richardson that featured soloists Brian Tkachuk ’18 on tenor sax, Kevin Gonzalez ’19 on trumpet, Meghan Stern ’20 on alto sax, and Samsen Marquez ’20 on trombone, East St. Toodle-OO arranged by Duke Ellington and Bubber Miley featuring Annance Seraphin ’20 on trumpet, Marquez, and Stern, and lastly, The Sidewinder by Lee Morgan that featured Seraphin. The ensemble was lucky enough to receive a few tips from Vincent Gardner, a professional trombonist who plays for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
“Vincent’s a really good player, he knows what he’s doing since he’s been playing for so long, and I’m glad he gave us some helpful pointers,” said Marquez.
Finally it was time for the band to show off what they got. The group walked through the maze of hallways and back into the auditorium to get up on stage. After playing their three songs for the judges, they received lots of applause and walked off set with big smiles.
While awaiting their feedback from the judges, the ensemble went out for lunch at a nearby pizzeria and spent more quality time together. Upon arriving back to the institution, they finished watching the last few jazz performance before breaking off into sectionals. Sectionals are small jam sessions where specific instruments are grouped together so that a professional player of their instrument can teach them news things about it and answer questions. A few of those professional instructors were Lauren Sevian and Christopher McBride on saxophone, Justin DiCioccio on drums, James Zollar on trumpet, and Nathan Lincoln-DeCusatis on piano.
After the small group sessions, they came back together so that the judges can give their feedback and present awards to the most outstanding soloists. Stern, Marquez, and Seraphin were among the many that received certificates for their amazing solos.
“Jazz Ensemble pretty much incorporates every aspect of a team,” said Tkachuk. “Yes, sometimes we have to rely on ourselves to learn our individual parts, but it’s also important that we trust and depend on each other to make music happen. I think that’s what holds us together.”