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Islanders wow judges with award-winning jazz performances

Students from the high school jazz band won big at the recent Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. - Photo courtesy Mike Schafer
Students from the high school jazz band won big at the recent Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival.
— image credit: Photo courtesy Mike Schafer

There is something happening on the jazz scene on South Whidbey. Move over Garfield High School — the perennial heavy hitter among high school jazz bands— and make room for some top notch jazz musicians from South Whidbey.

For the second year in row, the jazz band from South Whidbey High School came home with honors from Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival at the University of Idaho.

The high school jazz band, under the direction of Chris Harsham, placed first in its division.

Not to be outdone, the Langley Middle School jazz band — under the direction of Matt Frost — earned a third place among their peers during the annual festival at the University of Idaho.

“The kids stepped up all the way. They were really focused on why we were there,” Harshman said.

“One judge described our band’s performance a near professional,” Harshman said.

Winning first place in the division earned the 23-member band a performance on the winners’ stage if front of 375 other schools with about 1,000 people in the audience.

“There were 30-foot screens beside the stage showing the performances. It was a great experience for the students,” Harshman said.

They performed three pieces; “Malaguena,” a Pat Matheny ballad called “Dream of the Return” with Mark Arand, trombone soloist and “Engine No. 9”, a rock n’ roll boogie woogie number with Grant Neubauer on the piano.

In addition, the Blue Matter Jazz Combo earned runners up in a combo division for their outstanding performance. Combo members include Grant Neubauer, piano; Ian Marsanyi, drums; Landon Moore, sax; Keegan Harshman, bass and Jasper Hayes, guitar.

“The high school also had two very strong performances in the solo categories; on piano, Grant Neubauer — called the boy wonder — and Tyler Kinser, the coolest bass solo ever,” Harshman said.

Under the direction of Matt Frost, the LMS Jazz Ensemble earned a runners-up award with their well-crafted program, placing third among schools twice their size. Middle schools are not divided into divisions, so LMS competed against much larger schools.

These wins are especially sweet for both directors, who moved into their positions just this year.

Harshman stepped up to the high school this year after developing an award-winning jazz program at the middle school where he taught for five years. Frost, a University of Idaho graduate and former Coupeville resident, was hired to replace Harshman.

“It was just great to see Matt do so well with his students his first year of teaching,” Harshman said.

The middle schoolers played four numbers and competed against all middle and junior high schools, including many with ninth graders. They earned special recognition for their impressive selection of music.

“The judge told the band that they looked like they were having fun and they put on a great show,” Frost said.

The 21 LMS students performed “Groove Merchant,” “Round Midnight,” “Four Brothers” and “Poultry in Motion.”

“The band sounded great. The energy on the bus was amazing when we found out we had placed,” Frost said.

Frost, a former bicycle racer, likes to use sports metaphors.

“I told the students to learn how to run an offense and work on your jump shot, and you’ll do well. They did and they had fun while they were there,” he said.

“I never make a reference to winning. I am competitive but it’s not solely about winning.

It’s all about the music that’s what the kids will remember,” he said.

Frost credits the parents of his students for helping advance the program.

“They get them to early band practice and provide private lessons for many of the students,” he said.

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