Kuumbwa Jazz Honor Band Celebrates its 15th Year

Kuumbwa Jazz Honor Band Celebrates its 15th Year

Fifteen years ago, Kuumbwa Jazz set out to take the Summer Jazz Camp program to the next level by recruiting the region’s finest young musicians to create an all-star ensemble. Every year since, a talented group of teenagers has studied, rehearsed and performed jazz together though the course of the school year. Throughout its existence, the Kuumbwa Jazz Honor Band has nurtured and inspired dozens of emerging jazz talents, and an impressive number of these young people have gone on to extraordinary musical careers.

Kuumbwa Jazz’s Co-Founder and Artistic Director Tim Jackson, notes that, “We wanted to bring together the best of the best as a way to further the art form and encourage the next generation of jazz musicians to listen to the music, master it, and then add their own ideas to the genre.  We had no idea when we started the Kuumbwa Jazz Honor Band 15 years ago, that these young musicians would affect the world of jazz in such a significant way.

“But when you look at musicians who have come out of our program, like Remy and Pascal Le Boeuf, whose many commissions and awards include Pascal being the youngest person ever to receive the ASCAP/IAJE Commission in 2004 and Remy receiving a New Jazz Works grant from Chamber Music in 2012, or New York-based saxophonist Ben Flocks being invited to attend the prestigious Brubeck Institute and whose combo tours internationally, you know our program has really influenced the musicians who participated in it and even the future of jazz.”

The list of graduates’ accolades is extensive.  To name just a few more, saxophonist, composer and arranger Dillon Baiocchi received the coveted DownBeat Student Music Award for his original composition “Mountain Road” in April 2012. Baiocchi, who received a degree in music from The New School, now shares his passion for jazz with students in two local middle schools as part of Kuumbwa’s Artist in the Schools program, in addition to touring with his band.  He’ll be performing on the Kuumbwa stage on Thursday, June 6th.

Guitarist/alum Keshav Singh, a graduate of Princeton University, was one of the youngest recipients of the 2009 ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award.  Tenor saxophonist/alum Jesse Scheinin, a graduate of the Berklee School of Music, has performed at the Blue Note in New York City and at venues like the Panama Jazz Festival and the Umbria, Italy Jazz Festival.  Last summer Honor Band alum and guitarist Jackie Partida was a featured performer in the Cabrillo Music Festival’s Secret Life of Girls concert.  In 2008 she received a Seventeen magazine award for “Next Breakout Artist.” She is currently touring with her rock band, Dressed in Roses.

“There’s a fusion of youthful energy and fresh artistry that comes together in the Honor Band, and the musicians really motivate each other,” points out Jackson.  “Every few years there is a huge talent that inspires the other young musicians to dig deeper.  You combine that with a generational view of the world that is fresh and imaginative, and the ideas come tumbling out of these kids in dynamic and innovative ways.

This year’s huge talent, pianist Lucas Hahn, is a freshman at Georgiana Bruce Kirby High School, and he is already composing music and inspiring a highly talented 2012-2013 Honor Band crew to an even higher level.  His CD release party is June 7th at Kuumbwa Jazz.  YouTube is already full of videos of his performances, including a recent one featuring his original composition, “Child of Kuumbwa.”

Many band members who do not go on to professional careers in music still continue to play.  Take Shamik Mascharak, a drummer in the honor band for four years and currently a bioengineering student at Stanford. Last summer he earned spending money playing in a jazz combo, and this year he’s playing in a rock band and composing music. “I can’t imagine myself not playing music of some sort.  Being in the Honor Band developed my musicality and forced me to challenge myself. There is an element of responsibility about it — you feel like you are entering this immensely talented group, and you want to live up to and maintain its legacy.”

“Each fall, we hold competitive auditions,” says Education Coordinator Melody Korkos.  “Many of our students come out of our summer Jazz Camp program, which is for musicians 12-18 yrs old and runs for two weeks every summer.  But occasionally a student who is not on our radar will show up and blow us away with his or her talent.”

Honor Band members rehearse and have regular performance opportunities throughout the school year.  The program is completely free of charge to Honor Band students, thanks to generous funding from local businesses and individuals. Honor Band members are also encouraged to listen to live performances and are provided with the opportunity to attend most Kuumbwa concerts for free. They also are invited to attend Meet and Greets with touring musicians like Antonio Sanchez, Tia Fuller, Wynton Marsalis and NEA Jazz Master Jim Hall.

“We love to brag about our many success stories,” says Korkos. “But the program has a deep influence on every student who participates.  It exposes them to all kinds of musical principles, such as improvisation, and interpretation, but it also teaches life skills like confidence, poise, and how to work well in a collaborative environment. Whether our students go on to storied jazz careers, become music educators, play just for fun, or put their instruments aside for awhile, they all carry their love and appreciation of the art form into the future and they influence and expose their friends and families.  They essentially become jazz ambassadors for the rest of the lives.”

The 2012-2013 Kuumbwa Jazz Honor Band will be performing their final concert on Thursday, May 23rd  at 7pm at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar Street in Santa Cruz.

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