Grand Canyon jazz band competes at NAU

The band performs “What a Wonderful World” behind vocalist Thelma Montes.

Erin Ford/WGCN

The band performs “What a Wonderful World” behind vocalist Thelma Montes.

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — As Grand Canyon High School’s basketball season came to a close, the school’s jazz band took some time in the spotlight, performing at the Northern Arizona University Jazz Festival Feb. 23.

The festival, showcasing jazz bands from around Arizona, allows students to play in front of a panel of judges and attain a score.

The Grand Canyon High School Jazz Band traveled to Flagstaff to play three songs which they practiced for several months prior to the festival. One of the songs, a jazz version of commonly known, “What a Wonderful World,” featured singer Thelma Montes. Cale Wisher, the band’s pianist, thought having a singer makes the band special.

“The band this year is very unique,” Wisher said. “We have somebody on vocals which we have not had in the past.”

The students not only came away from the festival with a strong score, but enjoyed the process of preparing and performing music. Jasea Pace, one of the band’s tenor saxophone players, said learning the music is her favorite part of the performance.

“I’ve really enjoyed the process of getting new music and being able to learn it with my peers,” she said.

This festival was a significant achievement for the band, who has spent the year overcoming obstacles such as instrument shortages, new members and large sizes. This year, the band had around 30 students, a much larger number than it has had in previous years.

A majority of these students were incoming freshmen who had little previous band experience. Despite the small amount of time they were given to learn a new instrument, these students caught up to the band quickly and continue to thrive in the demanding environment. Judith Torres, a clarinet player in the band, said being in the band has allowed her to be more confident.

“We go play for strangers in a big school setting,” she said. “So you have to have confidence and learn not be afraid.”

The band also received several new instruments this year, donated by the Tusayan Town Council, to replace broken ones. Among these were new alto saxophones, mouthpieces for clarinets and an upright-bass. Band members said they are excited and thankful to have these new materials.

In March, the band will use the knowledge gained at the festival to improve their abilities and perform at the Highland Jazz Competition at Arizona State University (ASU) in Phoenix. Instead of receiving a score and ranking against themselves, the band will compete against sixty other bands from Arizona, hoping to rank within the top five. Should the band place first, they will have the opportunity to play at an evening performance among professional jazz musicians.

This experience provides not only an exciting and new opportunity for the jazz band, but also an excellent learning experience. Band director Bentley Monk said he is excited to see the students perform at ASU in March and said he can’t wait to see every member of the band at the competition at ASU, “ready to swing, have fun and play the best that they can.”

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