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Jazz band nationally recognized for excellence

Addie Robey, Staff Writer

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Performing in jazz band, junior Dorian Ice plays the tenor saxophone center stage at their performance Thursday, Oct. 4 in the auditorium. The jazz band competed nationally to earn the Mark of Excellence, an award based in Texas.

Walking into the band room, the loud blaring of the trumpets and the beating of the drums makes the room feel alive with energy and music.  

The students in jazz band knew that their passion and hard work at practices four days a week had paid off when band director Brian Dell told them that they had been recognized with the national award, the Mark of Excellence, through the Foundation for Music Education Oct. 3. 

“This is a huge honor and a big step forward for the jazz program, and places them at a high level with the powerhouse Texas band programs,” Dell said.    

The Mark of Excellence project has been around since 2008 and is based in Texas, but groups apply on a national level. It recognizes and awards outstanding achievement in performance and provides a unique competitive environment, allowing ensembles to compare their performance quality to other groups from across the country.  

“I am so proud of them,” Dell said. “This was a great opportunity to see how we stood up against other schools across the nation.”  

Last May as an ensemble, the jazz band submitted an entry from their professional recording session, and the program recently released the results of their win. They were one of two groups in the United States to be nationally recognized for their excellence.  

“I’m in band because I love music and playing my instrument with a big group,” sophomore Kayla Verra said. “It felt so rewarding to be recognized for all of our hard work.” 

They stand out for the individualized, personal nature of their music and the passion behind what they do.    

“My favorite part about being in jazz band is how I get to express myself,” junior Sam Hakanson said. “I really like the type of music, and I get to express a lot of individuality through it.” 

The jazz band plays a variety of different performances in the community, including a fall concert with the orchestra, fundraisers and gigs at restaurants.  

“The music we play is definitely challenging,” senior Jack Kurtz said. “But after a great concert, it is always worth it to feel proud of how we played.”  

Chad Mendez

They rely on improvisation, and the music takes personal skill into account. The band’s music blends together with harmony but also has an aspect of individuality.  

“Jazz band is much more involved and much more of a close group than any regular band,” Kurtz said. “There is less of us, so the intimacy with the music that we make is at a much higher level than in concert band.”   

Kurtz has been in jazz band since freshman year and plays the trumpet.    

“Not only do I enjoy the music we play, but I like connecting with everyone else in band,” sophomore Ainsley Neil said. “The music takes a lot of skill, and it’s something I really love and have a lot of fun doing.”  

The high difficulty of the music challenges members of the ensemble to continuously learn and improve their skills. All of the students in the band had to go through an audition process to get there, and as a result, the students are more committed, not only participating in class but also practicing Monday through Thursday after school. 

“The audition process is definitely a little intimidating,” Neil said. “But joining jazz band was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”  

There are twenty-four people in jazz band, including six saxophones, five trumpets, five trombones, two drums, two basses, two pianos and two guitars.    

“I like the energy level of the music,” senior Sean Costello said. “When you’re on the drum set, you get a lot of chance to play stuff that’s a lot more fun and energetic.”   

Costello has also been in jazz band since freshman year and plays the drums.  

“I like playing multiple instruments in jazz band,” freshman Mia Alcala, who plays the clarinet and the tenor saxophone, said. “Since I’m the only freshman, I was a little nervous going into it, but Mr. Dell and everyone made me feel so at home.”  

Another reason for the jazz band’s success is their band director, Brian Dell. As a professional jazz drummer, his passion for music and jazz is a source of motivation and inspiration for many of the students.    

“Ever since freshman year, Mr. Dell has brought me up with how to do certain things on the drum set, and how stylistically things should feel,” Costello said. “His passion for jazz and jazz drumming in specific has been very helpful for me. It’s been very fun to learn from someone that’s so great and passionate about what he does.”   

The band earned superior ratings at the FBA State Jazz MPA the past two years, which are the first in school history.    

“I am so proud of the growth of this jazz band and their relentless work ethic to be among the best,” Dell said. “These students have definitely earned this.”

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