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Jazz Festival Names Youth Band Winners

  • Written by The Atlanta Daily World
  • Published in Atlanta
     “We had an amazing turnout of extraordinarily talented young jazz musicians at this year’s AJF Youth Jazz Band Competition at Georgia State University School of Music,” said Camille Russell Love, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs. “A dozen middle and high school jazz bands competed on April 28 to win a coveted spot at this year’s Atlanta Jazz Festival. We had only planned to award three spots, but the students were so good, we decided to create another slot and this year we have four winners! We know you’ll be surprised at their skills when you hear them in historic Piedmont Park this Memorial Day Weekend, May 26-28.”     Winners and the times and dates they’ll perform in historic Piedmont Park are: 1st Place: Benjamin E. Mays Jazz Orchestra - Monday, May 28,   p.m.; 2nd Place: Woodland High School Jazz Band - Sunday, May 27, 1 p.m.; 3rd Place: Martin Luther King, Jr. High School Big Band - Monday, May 28, 12:30 p.m.; 4th Place:  J.C. Young Middle School Jazz Ensemble - Sunday, May 27, 12:30 p.m.     According to Band Director William F. Earvin, winning the competition for the Benjamin E. Mays Jazz Orchestra means that the school will officially have a Jazz Orchestra next year.  And he’s ecstatic about that. “I am totally happy that these youngsters get to experience something of what the jazz masters left for us … Dizzy, Duke, Coltrane,” he enthuses. “They will have something that will stay with them forever.”    Earvin has been teaching music for 12 years, for the last five years at Mays.  He teaches 152 students in music classes for the Marching Band, two Symphonic Bands, Pep Band, Percussion Ensemble, Clarinet Choir and Flute Choir.    Because he felt his students could handle it and he wanted to give them an opportunity to learn to play jazz, he added a Jazz Orchestra and a Jazz Ensemble as after school programs.  Now with the encouragement and support of his principal, the students and parents, they will add a Jazz Orchestra to next year’s school curriculum.     This is the first year that Mays has participated in the Youth Jazz Band Competition. In addition to regular classes, the 24 students in the Jazz Orchestra rehearsed before and after school for 3 ½ hours a day for three weeks to get ready for the competition.     “I’m a proud graduate of Mays High School myself and a trumpet player,” Earvin adds. “I was inspired by my high school music teacher to push myself and learn to play jazz when I was in the 10th grade. It is a great honor for me now, as the band director, to have my students play at the Atlanta Jazz Festival.” just competing would be a good experience.       Eric Willoughby, the band director at Woodland High School, told his 20 Jazz Band students that his previous school, Peachtree Ridge High School, knew what a thrill it was to actually play at the Atlanta Jazz Festival. So of course he was secretly hoping for another win.  “It was our first year to compete and I didn’t want them to feel any pressure,” Willoughby says. “But I was excited about our prospects.”     Willoughby has been teaching music for 18 years, four years at Woodland.  As a trumpet player himself, he was inspired first by The Tonight Show’s trumpet master, Doc Severinsen, and then by Winton Marsalis. “I play all kinds of music for my students,” Willoughby says.  “But these days, kids are exposed to more contemporary players like Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band.”     Preparation for the Youth Jazz Band Competition grew out of rehearsals for an annual fundraiser called “Enchanted Evening,” where the Jazz Band plays a 90-minute set.  They rehearse in class all year for the fundraiser.  When asked what advice he gives his students before they hit the stage he says, “Trust in the process and you will have a good result.” 

     Band director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. High School Big Band, Travis W. Kimber, was on his way to becoming a lawyer when his advisors told him that employers were looking for people with majors outside the box.  A music-lover and saxophone player since high school, he decided to add music education to his courses. “I studied pre-law and even took my LSATs,” Kimber says.  “I was three months from graduating when I realized that being a music educator was my true calling.”

     And he has not looked back. He’s been teaching music for 15 years, 11 of them at M. L. King.  “I was very influenced by both my high school and college Band Directors,” Kimber explains.  “I realize that I am a role model and I take that seriously.  One of my great joys is that one of my former students just got his music educator certification and he’s now my assistant.”  Of the 250 music students at M.L. King, 18 are in the Big Band. Preparation for the competition started a couple of months out, with rehearsals increasing two hours a day twice a week for the last three weeks. The week of the performance they practiced every day.   

      What advice does he give his students before they perform?  He says, “Relax and have fun. The audience can feel your energy.”

     Robert Jeffrey, band director at J.C. Young Middle School, got interested in music because of his two older sisters who were outstanding vocalists. One of them also started playing clarinet and when she lost interest, she passed the instrument on to her brother.  For Jeffrey, that’s all it took. He joined the high school band and fell in love with jazz.

  Jeffrey has been teaching music for 16 years, 13 of them at J.C. Young. He teaches 140 students in the Symphonic Band, Pep Band, Percussion and Jazz Ensembles. All 25 students in the Jazz Ensemble also play in the Symphonic Band. 

      Not only did Jeffrey’s students prepare for the competition in music class each week, but for two months they stayed after school one day a week for two hours. “Jazz has so many styles,” Jeffrey continues.  “So I encourage my students to get familiar will all types of jazz.  For instance we might talk about what swing feels like, and then really work on getting comfortable with the fundamentals.”  What’s his advice for the kids before they perform?  “Remember to enjoy the music and give yourself over to it,” he says.  “What you put in, you get out.”  

     The 35th Annual Atlanta Jazz Festival is presented by the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs, a division of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.  Join the festival on Facebook at AtlantaJazzFestival. For more information, visit  www.atlantafestivals.com

     Camille Russell Love, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, said, “For the entire month of May we are partnering with parks, restaurants, clubs and venues around Atlanta to host jazz related events.  We are renaming May this year and we’ll call it ‘31 Days of Jazz!’ We’ve got something for everyone...from the soulful sounds of the Mose Davis Trio at Sun Dial, to spicy Latin jazz at Fiesta Atlanta in Centennial Park, to legendary pianist Johnny O’Neal at the Loews Atlanta Hotel.  We hope that people will get out and explore some new hot spots and eateries around the city, and truly get into the community spirit of the festival.”

     Many of the events are free, but some are ticketed and there is an admission charge, added Love, who encourages everyone to pick up a brochure and enter the Passport Program contest.  The grand prize includes a two-night stay at the Loews Atlanta Hotel, dinner for two at one of the festival restaurant partners, a commemorate t-shirt, poster, and a special VIP Experience for two at the festival in Piedmont Park.


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