Tucson student musicians hope to strike a chord with judges for nationwide jazz competition

TJI students get ready for a big competition

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Right now, hundreds of high school jazz musicians across the country are eagerly waiting to learn if they made the cut to compete in New York City for internationally acclaimed musicians, like Wynton Marsalis.

The Tucson Jazz Institute’s top band, The Essentially Ellington Big Band, hopes to earn an invitation. They’ve placed before and hope to make the trip again this year.

TJI is a community music school in Tucson, and has students from all over southern Arizona.

“My name is Jazmin Harvey, kind of like ‘Jazz-man’,” Harvey said as she introduced herself.

Harvey is a sophomore in the band who’s been playing the piano for 12 years.

You won’t find any sheet music on Harvey’s piano — instead she memorizes it.

That’s quite a bit of music to memorize since she plays for her high school jazz band, her school’s marching band and at TJI.

Although she’s busy, Harvey looks forward to the rehearsals at TJI.

“You get to be with people you love and you get to perform at these amazing places and festivals,” Harvey said.

The band just performed at the HSL Properties Tucson Jazz Festival where the students played alongside famous bassist and composer, Christian McBride.

“I was so starstruck. When someone that beast mode, god-level is looking at me like that, it was like ‘whoa,’” Harvey said.

“Christian McBride is one of the best jazz musicians in the world and the fact that a bunch of high schoolers from Tucson, we got the chance to play with him, that is amazing,” Cameron Davidson said.

Davidson plays the trumpet for the TJI band, and said McBride left the student musicians feeling pretty sharp.

“After my solo, Christian was like, ‘Hey, good solo, man!’ That meant a lot. This guy is one of the best in the world and he thought my solo was good, that’s amazing,” Davidson said.

That momentum fueled the students’ energy in rehearsal, where the band recorded music to submit to the 2020 Essentially Ellington Competition & Festival, a nationwide jazz competition in New York City.

Each finalist band receives an in-school workshop led by a professional musician before coming to New York to put up their “Dukes” and perform before Marsalis and a panel of esteemed judges. The festival concludes with a concert and awards ceremony featuring the three top-placing bands and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Marsalis.

“I’m a little nervous, but I have a lot of faith that we will get in because I know we practice a lot,” Harvey said.

If they make the cut, they will travel to New York to compete against some of the top high-school bands in the country.

“We always find out on Valentine’s Day, so it’s almost like being asked out by your crush, but it’s being let into a competition, so it’s even better,” Harvey said.

This Valentine’s Day, the student jazz enthusiasts hope to learn they have a date in New York City.

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