For students in the Mount Si High School (MSHS) jazz band, it’s a lot more than just playing music.
“It’s just a really great way to do life,” senior bass trombonist Erik Thurston said.
At MSHS, the roughly 20-student jazz band meets during zero period, meaning class starts every morning at 6:30 a.m.
The students don’t just like playing music — they love it.
For many of them, they have been playing since late elementary school or early middle school.
“I remember walking into the classroom early to put away my instrument and I didn’t realize there was a whole classroom of people in there,” senior tenor saxophone player Jackson Beymer said. “Once I saw them I went to leave, but then the jazz director at the time told me I should stay and, well, here I am.”
For senior trombonist James Kolke, he inherited his knack for jazz from his father, who is a professional jazz trumpet player.
“I was kind of forced into it, but I’ve really come to love it,” he said.
The efforts the students put in for long hours of practice and early morning rehearsals have not gone unnoticed. This year, the MSHS jazz band is one of 15 high school jazz bands in the nation to compete in the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival in New York City this spring. This will be the band’s fifth time competing.
Unlike other school-related competitions, the MSHS jazz band doesn’t see it as a competition to win but more of an experience they can share with musicians across the country.
“There’s no experience like it,” Thurston said. “It’s so meaningful to even be asked to be a part of it.”
Senior alto saxophone player Christian Palomo agreed.
“It’s really more about meeting new people who just really enjoy playing music, and it’s a really special thing to see,” he said. “We just get to enjoy the experience and celebrate each other.”
MSHS band director Bill Leather has been leading the band for the past three years. This will be his second time going to Essentially Ellington with the band.
“It was so great the first time I went with them,” he said. “And I’m thrilled we get to go again.”
Preparing for the competition takes its toll, Leather says. While the students know their parts so well, a common challenge is becoming complacent.
“Once you get into a competition like this, it’s easy to lose motivation,” Beyer said. “The real challenge is to stay invested over time and not become complacent when rehearsing.”
“It’s always a challenge to get the kids to not accept ‘good enough,’ and I push them to realize that there’s always something to work on — always something to dig into,” Leather said.
Leather and the jazz band said they credit a lot of their success to the supportive community.
“People really love us here and want to support us,” senior trumpet player Paula Bachtal said. “And we’re really honored to be a part of it.”
Through various fundraisers with the band boosters, the school and the community, many students who couldn’t financially afford to be a part of MSHS’s music programs are now able.
For Essentially Ellington, the local Starbucks is sponsoring its 24th annual Hot Java Cool Jazz concert at the Paramount Theatre. The fundraiser concert will be held March 15 from 7-10 p.m. All proceeds from ticket sales will directly benefit the school’s music program, such as funding trips, uniforms and instruments.
Tickets can be purchased from the MSHS band website at http://tinyurl.com/y326yoyc. Tickets also can be purchased at the Snoqualmie Starbucks at 7730 Center Blvd SE A. Tickets purchased through the Paramount Theatre will not go directly toward the MSHS music program.
“I’m really proud of the students. It’s so rewarding to see their passion and I’m inspired everyday by them,” Leather said. “I also want to say thank you to the community for supporting us all these years and we look forward to more in the future.”