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Published on June 6th, 2017 | by Max Morin

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Samo Wins First Place in Jazz Festival

On Saturday, May 13, Samo’s jazz bands competed in the Westlake Jazz Festival. The competition, which pits bands against each other to be judged by professional musicians and educators, is meant to evaluate the bands’ performance as ensembles. Samo competed against other jazz combos spread all throughout Southern California, all of which were classified and put into separate divisions. Bands played for a substantial portion of the day, and Samo’s Jazz 1, the upper-level jazz band, earned a first place ranking by the end of the competition.

Joey Ricard (’17) enjoyed the concept of the festival, showing much enthusiasm towards Samo’s participation.

“It was a bunch of big bands competing against each other,” Ricard said. “Even with many divisions, we had really intense competition.”

The divisions at jazz festivals range drastically based on playing ability and jazz/music theory knowledge. In the Novice division, the musicians have all recently begun playing jazz and are new to the concepts of improvisation and swing, among other important jazz topics. Intermediate improves, and most musicians have a general feel for jazz. In the Advanced division, the bands are expected to be able to read difficult literature, with several strong soloists and full ensemble instrumentation. The Heavy division, the top division, is graded much more intensely, as the band is expected to be at a nearly professional level, with minimal mistakes. Every person in a Heavy ensemble is expected to be able to solo proficiently, and the charts they play are significantly more complex. The Combo divisions only go up to Advanced, so combos from schools in the Heavy division are still required to play against other Advanced combos.

Samo’s Jazz 1 placed first in the Advanced division, defeating several other high schools throughout southern California. Jazz 2, in the Novice division, placed fifth. Samo’s Jazz Combo 1 received second place in the Combo Advanced division, only losing to a combo from a Heavy division ensemble. Samo’s Jazz 2 Combo did not place.

Samo’s jazz band is directed and conducted by District VAPA Coordinator Tom Whaley and elementary music teacher Sean Pawling, both trombone players and professional jazz musicians. The bands rehearse for two hours on Mondays and Wednesdays, with additional rehearsals on Thursdays when necessary. Jazz 1’s lead tenor sax player, Brian Mendez (’17), felt as if the time put in for the festival made it a great experience.

“I really think our hard work and dedication to the band paid off in the competition,” Mendez said.

This was a particularly good send off for all the outgoing seniors, ending their last competition with a bang. Tenor saxophone player Jamie Cohen (’17) had a great time at the festival, and was proud to have played alongside his band members.

“It was a great final festival with my friends. I really enjoyed it,” Cohen said.

The festival was a huge success for Samo, and a memorable performance for the Jazz program. Samo’s Jazz Bands will be performing their final concert at Catalina Bar and Grill on June 4 at noon, with guest artist Jeff Babko.


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