Arts and Entertainment

High school jazz ensemble to play at WICA

The South Whidbey Jazz Ensemble peforms at WICA in Langley at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22. - Poster courtesy of Jude Janis
The South Whidbey Jazz Ensemble peforms at WICA in Langley at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22.
— image credit: Poster courtesy of Jude Janis

If you want to hear some well-played jazz, you don’t have to go far. In fact, you don’t even have to get on the ferry.

If you haven’t heard the South Whidbey High School Jazz Ensemble recently, you should expend every effort to hear them play at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22 in a special event.

Under the direction of Chris Harshman, the South Whidbey High School jazz program has become the little country darling of the national high school jazz band set, proving itself one of the premier programs in the country.

In 2008, the band was the smallest school to make the Essentially Ellington Festival Finals Competition held each year in New York City. It’s a big-deal festival at Lincoln Center, with jazz greats Wynton Marsalis and friends running the show.

Then again in 2009, the band made the finals of the National Next Generation Festival in Monterey, Calif. with a shot at performing at the famous Monterey Jazz Festival. They didn’t make it to the famous festival, but don’t underestimate this jazz machine that continues to produce top-notch players. Monterey is not an outlandish goal for this group.

“We owe much gratitude to our South Whidbey community, where the appreciation for the arts is strong and the support of our district’s music program is paramount,” Harshman said.

“We are fortunate to have an artistically informed and culturally hip community whose support encourages our efforts and inspires our artistry,” he said.

Indeed, even beyond the parental support that is so visible in the community for all young artists, South Whidbey seems blessed with a particularly lucky penchant for attracting talented teachers.

Private music students have an array of talented island teachers at their disposal, including “Burnin’” Neal Welch, the saxophonist who was voted by Earshot Jazz magazine as the up-and- coming artist of the year for 2009; world-class pianist Maureen Girard, who also lends her support to young musicians as the president of South Whidbey Jazz Educators; master trumpeter Lauren Anderson; David Licastro, local guitar hero; and additional music-student fan makers guitarist Levi Burkle; drummer Kitt Mills; and the “drum master” Bill Martin.

Harshman also gives credit to the school music programs that have thrived mainly because of teachers such as Matt Frost and Jess Foley of the middle school music programs who have the daunting task of preparing beginning musicians with the foundation of what will lead to their glory years as they continue their climb to the high school jazz band and beyond.

Zoe Hensler came out of the middle school program, and as a ninth grader is one of the newest members of the South Whidbey Jazz Ensemble.

Hensler is a consummate classical artist, having trained from age 5 on the viola and violin. Four years ago she started playing the trumpet. Last year, she was in the Langley Middle School Jazz Band and the eighth-grade Honor Band. She also played with the Junior All-State Orchestra in 2009.

“Jazz has a whole different meaning; it’s more emotional,” Hensler said of her experience playing jazz as opposed to classical music.

The trumpet also requires a lot of practice to “keep her chops up,” she said.

She named Marsalis and Chris Botti as two of her favorite performers, and admires Harshman for his ability to keep humor in the formula for playing jazz.

“Music is all about fun, not just about sitting there and reading notes off a page. Mr. Harshman knows how to keep the band going with a little humor and that makes it fun,” Hensler said.

Harshman has been working his magic at the high school for five years. In fact, his son Keegan Harshman is the bass player in the ensemble and his eldest son, former South Whidbey student Gabe, played trumpet in the band. His devotion to teaching both his sons and all South Whidbey High School musicians is reflected in the fact that they are continual contenders on a larger stage of competitive jazz players.

“Simply put, jazz is all in the family,” Harshman said.

“We do this together. Everyone gets a piece of the pie, and everyone gets a piece of the credit.”

With that sense of gathering everyone to enjoy music in the spirit of building community, the show is fundraiser. The South Whidbey band is in several upcoming competitions and the concert’s proceeds will help pay for the jazz ensemble’s traveling expenses.

Tickets for the special event are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors, military personnel and youths in high school and younger.

Call 221-8268 or e-mail for information.

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