Originally published in Earshot Jazz October 2012
Students from two Seattle Public High Schools share the spotlight this year with the festival’s high caliber line up of professional performing artists. Veterans of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Essentially Ellington contest – Roosevelt High School under the direction of Scott Brown – and first-time participants – Ballard High School under the direction of Michael James – bring their road-tested exuberance within earshot of this year’s festival audience.
Roosevelt returns from a two week summer European Festival Tour and second place finish at New York’s Ellington contest last May. “With loads of new talent and a strong core of veteran leadership,” Brown says, “this year's band is sure to be swinging!”
Brown, a trombonist, loves his job. “As a director, I am blessed to have so many wonderful musicians attending Roosevelt High School. When everyone in the band is ‘on the same page’ musically and spiritually, there is nothing better than to hear them swinging their tails off!”
James enjoys his role too, but acknowledges the hard work. “The challenge in jazz comes in making the performance as authentic as possible to the specific style and period of each piece,” he says, “as well as in communicating the emotion of the music from the page to the player to the audience.”
Band directors in Seattle draw on the rich pool of professional freelance regional artists to mentor their students. Brown hired saxophonist Stuart MacDonald as Assistant Director. MacDonald graduated from Roosevelt in 1991. James enlisted saxophonist Gary Hammon to help develop his band. Hammon emerged from the Seattle funk and free jazz scene, studied at the New England Conservatory of Music, toured with organist Big John Patton, returned to Seattle and recorded Fangs in 2005 with saxophonist Hadley Caliman.
Both bands will draw on the rich canon of big band music – Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sammy Nestico, Neal Hefti – and Roosevelt will include compositions by some of the student performers.
Brown says, “We hope you'll hear the precision, AND feel the spirit!”