"What's Happenin' in SWAT (SW ATL)..." Did you know... SW ATL's Benjamin E. Mays High School Jazz Orchestra and Jean Childs Young Middle School Jazz Ensemble are the 1st and 4th place winners, respectively, of the Atlanta Jazz Festival 9th Annual Youth Jazz Band Competition.
“We had an amazing turnout of extraordinarily talented young jazz musicians at this year’s AJF Youth Jazz Band Competition at Georgia State University School of Music,” states Camille Russell Love, Director of the Office of Cultural Affairs. “A dozen middle and high school jazz bands competed on April 28 to win a coveted spot at this year’s Atlanta Jazz Festival.
We had only planned to award three spots, but the students were so good, we decided to create another slot and this year we have four winners! We know you’ll be surprised at their skills when you hear them in historic Piedmont Park this Memorial Day Weekend, May 26-28.”
Here are the winners and the times & dates they’ll be performing in historic Piedmont Park.
1st Place: Benjamin E. Mays Jazz Orchestra - Monday, May 28 @ 1pm
2nd Place: Woodland High School Jazz Band - Sunday, May 27 @ 1pm
3rd Place: Martin Luther King, Jr. High School Big Band - Monday, May 28 @ 12:30pm
4th Place: J.C. Young Middle School Jazz Ensemble - Sunday, May 27 @ 12:30pm
According to Band Director William F. Earvin, winning the competition for the Benjamin E. Mays Jazz Orchestra means that the school will officially have a Jazz Orchestra next year. And he’s ecstatic about that. “I am totally happy that these youngsters get to experience something of what the jazz masters left for us…Dizzy, Duke, Coltrane,” he enthuses. “They will have something that will stay with them forever.”
Earvin has been teaching music for 12 years, for the last five years at Mays. He teaches 152 students in music classes for the Marching Band, two Symphonic Bands, Pep Band, Percussion Ensemble, Clarinet Choir and Flute Choir. Because he felt his students could handle it and he wanted to give them an opportunity to learn to play jazz, he added a Jazz Orchestra and a Jazz Ensemble as after school programs. Now with the encouragement and support of his principal, the students and parents, they will add a Jazz Orchestra to next year’s school curriculum.
This is the first year that has participated in the Youth Jazz Band Competition. In addition to regular classes, the 24 students in the Jazz Orchestra rehearsed before and after school for 3 ½ hours a day for three weeks to get ready for the competition. Earvin says he chose difficult songs that he didn’t think other schools would play and gave his students a few words of wisdom. “I encouraged them to attempt the impossible,” he says. “And told them to leave it all on the stage…all the blood, sweat and tears bring you to this moment.”
“I’m a proud graduate of Mays High School myself and a trumpet player,” Earvin adds. “I was inspired by my high school music teacher to push myself and learn to play jazz when I was in the 10th grade. It is a great honor for me now, as the Band Director, to have my students play at the Atlanta Jazz Festival.”
Robert Jeffery, Band Director at , became interested in music because of his two older sisters who were outstanding vocalists. One of them also started playing clarinet and when she lost interest, she passed the instrument on to her brother. For Jeffrey, that’s all it took. He joined the High School band and fell in love with jazz.
Jeffrey has been teaching music for 16 years, 13 of them at J.C. Young. He teaches 140 students in the Symphonic Band, Pep Band, Percussion and Jazz Ensembles. All 25 students in the Jazz Ensemble also play in the Symphonic Band.
Not only did Jeffery’s students prepare for the competition in music class each week, but for two months they stayed after-school one day a week for two hours. And to inspire them and help them learn about the jazz greats, they are regularly provided with CDs to listen to and study. “We have wonderful relationship with the Atlanta Jazz Club,” Jeffery explains. “They provide CDs to the students of giants in the jazz world, specifically on their instrument. For instance, if the student plays tenor sax, then the CDs center on jazz icons for that instrument.”
“Jazz has so many styles,” Jeffery continues. “So I encourage my students to get familiar will all types of jazz. For instance we might talk about what swing feels like, and then really work on getting comfortable with the fundamentals.”
What his advice for the kids before they perform? “Remember to enjoy the music and give yourself over to it,” he says. “What you put in, you get out.”
As to playing in Piedmont Park over Memorial Day Weekend, well he’s as proud as he can be that the hard work has brought such a sweet reward. “We are honored and thrilled to play at the festival,” Jeffrey says. “It’s going to be a big celebration with staff, families and friends. Come join us!”
Sponsors for this year’s festival are The Coca-Cola Company, Publix Super Markets, PNC Bank, Clear, Cartoon Network, Chick-Fil-A, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, Loews Atlanta Hotel, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Cayrum, Central Atlanta Progress, Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, MARTA, Southern Pianos, Lanier Parking, Atlanta Inquirer, Atlanta Tribune, INsite Atlanta’s Entertainment Monthly, The Atlanta Journal & Constitution, Uptown Magazine, Atlanta Daybook, Rolling Out, JS108Atlanta.com, V103, 1380 WAOK, WCLK Jazz 91.9, 89.3FM WRFG and Majic 97.5 & 107.5