By Kellen Murphy
This year’s Veterans Day weekend was a refreshing break from school for most AHS students, but for the students of the Jazz Choir class, November 11th had a lot in store for them. On a day when most students would be sleeping in until the clocks no longer read ‘a.m.,’ the AHS Jazz Choir got to the school at 7:00 am for a day full of musical performances. In the following paragraphs, I will describe to you the events that went down that day.
Part One: Pre-Performance
After a long cold bus ride to Edmonds, the jazzy ensemble stepped out of the bus and into the crowded doors of Meadowdale High School. The instrumental combos for each school’s choir struggled to pass through the sea of people with their gear, with many students carrying cases for upright basses, cymbals, guitars, bass guitars, and saxophones. Once the choir got in, the directors led the students to the auditorium. They found their spots to sit during the introductory speeches and a quick set by the Edmonds College jazz group, Sound Station (which featured the talents of AHS alumni Geoffrey Hamilton).
After their performance, the choirs were directed into different rooms with two other student groups, where each choir would perform a 2-3 song set in front of a professional musician. Then, after your set, the judge would tell you what you did well on and what you could improve on, as each choir was to perform one song each in front of everyone there (keep in mind, there were twelve total high school jazz choirs there). Among the AHS group, two other ensembles joined them in this room, with the AHS group performing last.
Led by Mrs. Leander and assistant teacher Ms. Mitchell, the AHS Jazz Choir played a two-song setlist. First was a Latin-based song titled Inherently Dangerous with a vocal solo from Lucy Price, a piano solo from Isaac Briefer, a bass solo from Kellen Murphy, and two drum solos from Henry Ermi. The second was a jazz a capella rendition of Blackbird by the Beatles, with an acoustic guitar intro by Kellen Murphy. After a very slight amount of critiquing was done with, the groups grabbed their things and headed to eat lunch in the gym, where Isaac Briefer and Kellen Murphy played some piano with the help of their hype man, Michael Hanrahan. Lunch didn’t last long, as the rest of the day was waiting. More jazz was on the horizon. And so, after lunch, the singers split from the combos to go to the workshops.
In one room, the singers worked with professionals to get ready for the big show, practicing techniques. One thing that the singers were asked to do was skat; an style of vocal improv that is not made of words (think ‘boppity-doo-wop a zoppity doo dah’). In another room, the instrumental combos worked with three professionals; a bassist, pianist, and drummer. The instrumental trio had each combo play an instrumental piece to be critiqued by them so that the combos would be able to fix their techniques prior to the big show. The AHS rhythm section played their own arrangement of ‘Zat You, Santa Clause? By Louis Armstrong. Unfortunately, Henry, Isaac, and Kellen didn’t really go over the form of the piece prior to playing it, so it was a little all over the place. However, since the professionals had never heard of the piece before, they didn’t critique much (which was cool). After the workshops had ended, the combos and singers met back up in the hallway to congregate before the final performances.
Part Two: The Performances
As the choirs made their ways to their seats in the bleachers, comments about the order of the setlist slowly circulated around the auditorium. Soon, Mrs. Leander let the group know that we were to be performing 6th in the setlist, which everyone was happy about. As the first few groups did their performances, the atmosphere grew more supportive in regards to each choir, with cheers erupting from the stands following every solo. In seemingly no time at all, the 5th group was performing, and the AHS jazz choir waited backstage for their showtime. When the 5th group had finished, the crowd cheered, and when the AHS group took the stage, the crowd cheered some more. Mrs. Leander proceeded to conduct the group through Inherently Dangerous for the second time that day. The crowd once again applauded with a clap, loud and brilliant as thunder, that had followed each solo that evening. Then, the AHS group walked off stage and back to their seats as the next band took the stage.
After the high school groups had finished performing, the professional combo players took the stage to accompany another group, called Groove For Thought. Their setlist consisted of five songs, with the last song inviting a special guest to the stage: Johnaye Kendrick, a jazz singer with two solo albums. Then, after the singers for Groove For Thought left the stage, the combo accompanied Kendrick through her own set, which saw a lot of storytelling, both lyrically and verbally. Crowd participation had reached its max during this final set, with crowds erupting with ‘ohhhhh’s and ‘oooooh’s during the more outrageous and out-there lyrics. Then, it concluded. Kendrick left with a standing ovation and the crowd roaring, and now the groups had to grab their things and get on their busses home.
Epilogue: The Way Home
The bus ride was once again long, and definitely colder than the first one. The bus was on its way towards the Spaghetti Factory; a traditional staple in choir trips. The time at the restaurant was filled with laughter, storytelling, quite possibly the most in-tune rendition of Happy Birthday to ever occur in a public place, as it was singer Will Price’s birthday. After enjoying their Italian dinners and suspiciously thin milkshakes, the group made their way back to the bus where many chose to sleep through the last leg of this jazzy journey.
By the time the bus reached Anacortes High School, the sky was black, the air was cold, and the clock was somewhere around 10:00pm. As everyone made their way to their cars or waited for their rides, the music was still in the air amongst them. Today had been a great day for the choir, and subsequently, a great day for the sharing of music.