Friday, March 30, 2012
Not many teenagers get excused from school in order to play a gig in Germany. But 5 students from the School of Creative and Performing Arts along with 1 alumnus did just that. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando stopped by SCPA for an after school jam session with Jazz Avenue.
If you want an argument for keeping music in schools, then look no further than the School of Creative and Performing Arts.
The school's music program includes a jazz class and after school program. This provided the perfect environment for 5 students and 1 alumnus to form Jazz Avenue at the end of last year so they could compete in School JamUSA.
Out of more than a hundred bands to qualify nationally, they placed first and were crowned Best Teen Band in the USA.
"We got $5000 for the school, a thousand dollars for ourselves," says keyboardist Harim Garza, "And a trip to Germany, which we're leaving when guys?"
"Tomorrow. Yeah Germany!"
That was two weeks ago. The boys returned to school on Tuesday says music teacher Tamara Paige. She runs the jazz program at SCPA and accompanied the band on the trip.
"It was magical." she says, "It was like being at the Grammies. I'm sure the Grammies are much bigger but for us it was that big of a moment. It was huge."
Sax player John Avery confesses he was a little nervous: "Because I had to announce the group and announce the songs. And I didn't know what was going to go on when I gave a big shout out to the beautiful German women that lived there with our newest Latin song."
Really new says bass player Marc Encabo.
"We just finished writing that song that week so that was our first time actually performing it as a whole. I mean it was definitely kind of intimidating because we didn't get to practice before. I mean we had the 3 days before we performed so like going into it, it was like, aw, do I even remember how to play it?"
But at least they were not competing says drummer Tyler Kreutel.
"It was in a country we had never been in before so we didn't know how they were going to react," he says, "But since we kind of already won we weren't super worried about what the judges thought because we weren't competing any more we were just opening up for other groups going to compete so we weren't nearly as nervous this time around."
Not many teenagers get excused from school in order to play a gig in Germany. But 5 students from the School of Creative and Performing Art along with 1 alumnus did just that. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando stopped by SCPA for an after school jam session with Jazz Avenue.
"I mean it was hard at first because when we play together, when Jazz Avenue plays together, we're used to playing on smaller stages to communicate better," says Garza, "But this stage I mean I was on one side of the stage and my bass player was on the opposite side."
That suited guitarist Josh Vasquez just fine: "I was like running around I was jumping I was sliding on my knees I could do everything So the extra space really helped the energy a lot and really lent to the performance."
"It was like WWE," says Chaz Cabrera, the only alumnus in th eband, "Cause you got those huge TVs and then like you see your face on it and it's like, "Whoa I got that many pimples."
Cabrera plays alto sax. Vasquez says they may have been playing jazz but they felt like rock stars.
"Because of the crowd of people there was a gate with security so it felt like an actual rock concert. It was something I've never experienced before but I hope I get to experience again," says Vasquez, "It felt good knowing that we come from America and jazz comes from America so we brought jazz over there and showed our stuff."
"During the sound check," Garza adds, "One German dude from another band got up and came to us and was like how old are you guys? 17-18. You guys are amazing, you know and even one of the guest bands , from Germany, professional already, mentioned us in their set while they were performing."
"They mentioned our names," enthuses Cabrera, "They said in German Jazz Avenue was brilliant, and we were like what? What did they say?"
The boys also got to be tourists during their stay in Germany.
Garza points to his shirt and explains: "It's like an iPhone, it's Germany and it shows the different little places, there's that was my favorite place."
The teenagers also went to Beethoven's house in Bonn.
"This is his house," recalls Vasquez, "He walked around here as a kid I'm probably stepping on the same floor he was stepping on. And I was looking at all the artifacts they had, they had all his hearing aids he used, and they had the viola he played with some orchestra, but they had the original viola he played and I was sitting there thinking, man his fingerprints are probably still on that thing."
"We learned a lot about him," Avery explains, "About his piano and his pianos and the ivory keys you could tell that he played it so hard that there were little grooves in the keys."
"It definitely opened my mind up that there's more in the world than just where we grew up," says Encabo.
It also opened their eyes to possibilities for Jazz Avenue.
"I was talking to one of the band members after the performance," Paige tells me, "And everyone was just on this natural high after that and I said now you are going out to create more experiences like this for yourself because as big as this was it's only the beginning. for them."
Jazz Avenue also was asked to go on tour in Germany in September.
"I don't know how many teenagers get asked to go on tour everyday," states Avery, "But I know that that's the first time I've ever been asked. Just thinking about it makes me really, really wish I could go back."
Jazz Avenue has a KickStarter campaign running to raise money to pay for a CD.