The saxophone players from Eastmont Junior High jazz band were listening to Tom Peterson, saxophone professional in the 2014 Wenatchee Jazz Workshop last week.
“A couple of points because you’re practicing so well,” he said. “Your hands should relax, so you can play your fingers lightly on the keys. Scoot up on the edge of the chairs to open up your diaphragm to express the air so you can get the timber of the sound, the color of the sound, do you know what I mean by that? To get the rise in pitch, you need to turn the corners of your mouth down to get a seal, so your sounds blossom. Find a state of meditation, breathe, and figure out the task at hand.”
Peterson and five other world-class jazz musicians mentored and played alongside students in six Eastmont and Wenatchee school bands last week ending with two concerts at the Performing Arts Center. Approximately 175 students participated.
Laurie Flarity-White became a board member because her son Dawson has enjoyed the skills he’s learned paying bass for four years.
She said the workshop has been performing for 14 years with funds from Buzz and Barb Parkhill, Eastmont and Wenatchee public schools and other sponsors and businesses.
The Musical and Education Director is Erin Smith, band director at Eastmont and leader of the Erin Smith Jazztet that performs Tuesday nights at Caffé Mele.
“Beyond the great musical experiences, the workshop communicates a strong message about how to succeed in life regardless of what endeavors people pursue,” Smith said on his blog in 2011.
The message of succeeding in life resonates with Hailey Jo Kelly, a ninth grader at Eastmont and daughter of Keith and Debbie Kelly in East Wenatchee. She said the workshop professionals teach students how to extend their range, breathe and do fingerings to play harder music.
“That’s because we already know how to play the songs, she said. “Mr. Smith kind of expects nothing but the best from his bands. He’s a great teacher.”
“Erin is the best I’ve seen at getting the most from youth,” said Tracy Warner, jazz musician and a jazz workshop sponsor.
My interview with Smith revealed how he inspired Hailey to seize opportunities.
“I knew she was a good musician,” he said. “I overheard Kelly vocalizing as Nancy [Zahn, the singer in Smith’s Jazztet] was singing. I said next week, you’re going to be singing with us. I liked her voice.”
After her performance he scheduled her to sing Everything by Michael Buble at the concert.
He focused on the band’s interplay with her vocal during rehearsal Thursday afternoon because the band was covering up where she needed to hit her final notes.
“We weren’t giving her the space she needed,” said Elton Pickett, a ninth grade trumpeter.
Eastmont’s concert performance received rousing applause, particularly after Hailey’s song and the finale when Jaime Grandolas’ performed his first improvised solo on alto sax. Afterward I talked with Kelly, Granados, Pickett and Chris Gurnard, alto sax, who joined the band this year after moving from Oklahoma.
Kelly, still thrilled after performing before her largest audience, said, “I thought it went well.”
They all said they gave her the space to hit her high note.
Then I heard something that resonated with what I’d felt that week.
Granados, the sax soloist said, “I really felt no pressure. With support from friends, there was nothing to worry about.”
Gurnard said, “They took me in from the beginning. We’re family. We play professionally, but we’re family, we bonded as a group.”
This is a spectacular workshop of musicians, teachers and mentors on performing music and living life.