By the time TYJE went on stage (we were the 14th band to perform) we had heard so many fine bands and soloists that we could have gone on stage very afraid or nervous, but TYJE played so great and so confidently. The audience spontaneously clapped strongly on 2 and 4 and they were vocally digging it when we played our final number Happy-Go-Lucky Local. None of the other bands had as much audience response and enthusiasm as we did. We all knew something special happened in our performance. For one thing we had fun and we were really swinging. But afterwards, I still didn’t think we had a chance because the other bands were so good and because I had been told by people with much experience in the JALC organization that first time bands never make it to the top three. (this was our first time at the competition and we are the first band to ever be from NC at this competition)
At 3pm the performances were over and the judges went to a private room and spent about an hour and a half figuring the awards: the judges were: Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Managing and Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis; composer, arranger, and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra trombonist Chris Crenshaw; acclaimed saxophonist and jazz educator Lauren Sevian; big band leader, drummer and Grammy-nominated recording artist Jeff Hamilton; and composer, arranger, and bassist Chuck Israels. As we waited, various audience members, parents, and students talked with me and said they thought we had a good chance of being in the top three. I thought that wasn’t possible so I didn’t expect anything big and was happy just to be one of the 15 finalists and to have gotten a chance to be on stage at Lincoln Center. If we came in last that would have been okay.
At 4:30pm we all get called back into the auditorium for the announcements and when they said we were in the top three, and that we would play again at 7:30 to determine first, second, and third place, my band jumped sky high in the auditorium – it was an unbelievable moment.
At 7:30 the three bands played, first we went, then Tucson Jazz Institute, then the New World School of the Arts from Florida. Each band played two of the three pieces we had performed earlier and a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra was featured as a guest artist on one of the pieces by each band. I chose the lead tenor sax player from JALC Orchestra, Walter Blanding, to play on the beautiful ballad, Laura, which was arranged by Duke Ellington’s writing partner, Billy Strayhorn. Walter traded improvisations with TYJE’s tenor saxophonist, Griffin Ross.
After the top three finalist bands played we returned to our seats to await the announcement of the awards. Many solo awards were given out first, of which we earned quite a few. But last came the big announcement.
First Wynton asked all of the fifteen band directors to come up on stage. Wynton, who is such a great spokesperson for jazz and jazz education, spoke about the importance of what we do as teachers, how good it is that we love working with young people, how we preserve and continue America’s original art form jazz, of how we struggle to raise funds and find support, and how we deal with so many different student needs. And then he asked the entire audience to applaud for all of us band directors and the applause seemed to last over five minutes.
Then Wynton made the final announcement. First he announced the third place band was Tuscon Jazz Institute, and I was standing on stage in shock. This meant we were either first or second. Then when he said, “in second place and receiving a $2500 award is TYJE” my band erupted in Joy! The other bands were all so good, being voted the 2nd best band of the competition was just incredible!
Who did you get to work with and play with?
There were many different activities for the students and directors.
First, back in Early April, JALC sent their lead alto saxophonist Sherman Irby to do a four hour clinic with us. JALC also reached out to the community and offered a free clinic to a school program and so Sherman also did a clinic for Enloe High School jazz ensemble.
When we got to the competition in NY the first clinic we went to was for each one of our sections so the rhythm, trombone, trumpet, vocalist, and sax sections all went with the similar sections in all the other fifteen bands to work with members of the JALC Orchestra.
Then we had a rehearsal of our full band with guest clinician, the JALC’s lead trombonist, Vince Gardner.
Another special moment for me was when the fifteen band directors had a private dinner with Wynton Marsalis. Wynton is an amazing and gifted speaker. He stressed the importance of what we do as teachers and preservers of America’s great original music, Jazz. I had tears in my eyes as he spoke about the importance of what we do as teachers, and how he knows how much we love working with students and sharing our knowledge of jazz. He validated the 40+ years I have been a teacher. This is the most important thing about being a teacher, it’s the feeling of knowing you have done something good for others.
What did the members of the band think about the whole experience?
The members of the band and their parents are all feeling great. Not a day goes by when we relive the excitement.
Can you talk a little bit about the players who won individual commendations?
Various students in TYJE were awarded solo awards:
Our bassist, senior Phillip Norris won two awards.
OUTSTANDING BASS and The Ella Fitzgerald Outstanding Soloist Award
made possible by the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation. It is the first time in the 21 years of the competition that a bassist has won the best soloist award. Phillip has been in TYJE for four years and is the son of TYJE’s assistant band director Lisa Burn. He will be going to Julliard in the fall.
Griffin Ross, a junior from Cedar Ridge HS won for OUTSTANDING TENOR SAXOPHONE: Griffin has taken jazz improvisation lessons from me and he has been in TYJE for three years.
Tucker Daniel won HONORABLE MENTION, ALTO SAXOPHONE. Tucker has been an exceptionable motivator for our group. He is a great organizer of extra rehearsals, and nobody would have worked as hard as they did if it wasn’t for him. He is going to UNC – Greensboro to major in Music Ed.
Emma Lanford, a sophomore at Woods Charter, won for HONORABLE MENTION, VOCALS: Her singing oo St. Louis Blues at the competition was fantastic.
Two other awards we received were for:
OUTSTANDING RHYTHM SECTION: Avery Logan, drums (Avery is going to New England Conservatory in the fall); Phillip Norris, bass; Jonah Smith, piano; Henry Allen, guitar; Will Snider, drums
OUTSTANDING TROMBONE SECTION:
Junior, Joe Ciampi; sophomore, Jack Trathen; Freshman, Evan Byrd.