Toting trumpets, trombones, saxophones and a few Santa hats, past and present members of Newton South Jazz Ensemble performed Dec. 19 in their Swing’n Holiday Concert. The performance featured a parade of soloists who took center stage with their instruments and ended with kids who attended the concert dancing beside the players.
The ensemble treated the audience in Newton South High School’s Seasholes Auditorium to renditions of holiday classics including “Frosty the Snowman” as well as a jazzy take on “The Nutcracker.”
Coleman Stanton, a baritone saxophonist in his junior year at Newton South, said age disparities among students in the ensemble fade away when the group comes together.
“There’s no difference between, like, seniors and freshmen, sophomores, juniors,” Stanton said of the students in the ensemble. “We’re all just one community.”
Ben Nasisi, also a junior and a drummer with the ensemble, said the diversity of interests among the group has enhanced his experience.
“You got the athletes, you got the people who are on science team and who like video games — it’s really a large variety of people,” Nasisi said. “It’s never boring.”
The majority of the ensemble fanned out in three rows to the side of director Lisa Linde. A line of saxophonists sat up front, followed by trombonists, trumpeters and a flutist in the back. Performers with many other instruments, including percussion, cello, guitar, bass guitar, and piano spread out across upstage center and right.
In recent years, the ensemble has expanded its reach beyond the walls of the school with their upcoming trip to Panama and submissions to national jazz competitions. Newton South music teacher Edward Harlow said this represents the larger mission of the group.
“Playing the instrument better than other people in the school or in the area isn’t an end goal,” Harlow said. “Our end goal as a musician should be agents of positive change in society and to make people’s lives better through music.”
Megan Leary-Crist, chair of Fine and Performing Arts at the high school, said the jazz group gives its students both a musical education and a lesson in cooperation.
“It’s camaraderie. It’s community. It’s an opportunity to pursue excellence,” Leary-Crist said. “But the excellence is only achieved through teamwork.”
Linde, who has worked in music at the school since 1998, said preparation for the concert began “22 years ago, in some ways.” She relies on older students to provide guidance and leadership to younger ones, who in turn improve on the legacy of their predecessors.
“Mentoring is huge,” Linde said. “In music, it’s hard because it’s personal.”
“Ms. Linde really asks the kids to put their heart and soul into it and step up,” said Sol Nasisi, Ben’s father. “They learn, I think, some life lessons about how to get the most out of yourself and how to push yourself and how to be as good as you can at something — the work that it takes to do that.”
The Jazz Ensemble is just one of nine musical groups at Newton South High School, according to Leary-Crist. The group will record a set of songs in early January for submission to earn a spot at the 2020 Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival. Named for the legendary American jazz composer, Duke Ellington, the annual contest is planned for May in New York City.
The group is also recording for submission to the Charles Mingus Festival and High School Competition, named after another renowned American jazz artist and composer. That festival will take place at The New School in New York City in February.
In January, the Jazz Ensemble also plans to visit Panama for the Panama Jazz Festival. Harlow said he suggested the trip to Danilo Pérez and his wife, Patricia Zárate Pérez. Danilo Pérez founded the festival, which was first held in 2003. The couple also created the Danilo Pérez Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing musical education to students who might not otherwise have access to it.
While at the international musical gathering, members of the Jazz Ensemble will be giving music lessons to Panamanian students. Harlow said the United States embassy has also invited Newton South High School’s students to perform in Colón and San Miguelito, Panama, for underprivileged students.
“We’re hoping to be able to possibly make a difference for people that don’t ordinarily get to see music like this and maybe be inspired by it,” Harlow said.
With the Jazz Ensemble’s trip to Panama now just weeks away, Patricia Zárate Pérez, executive director of the Panama Jazz Festival, said the ensemble members, along with their counterparts in Newton South High School’s Honors Jazz Combo, will make up one of only four groups of students from America at the event.
“They come to the festival to get music education, the best music education possible, but also to interact with other students that study music,” Pérez said of the Panamanian students who plan to attend the festival.
“They’re going to be representing the rest of the world.”
Nick McCool can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.