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Everyone loved us. It was nice seeing all the reactions to all our solos and everything we played. It was nice knowing that those people were there to watch jazz.
The Los Fresnos High School Jazz Band I is still savoring the night the group opened the show for guest artists Rodney Whitaker and Vincent Gardner, and the University of Texas at Austin Jazz Orchestra in front of a packed house in the Bates Recital Hall on the UT campus.
It was April 1 and the band had just been named grand champion of the annual UT-Austin Longhorn Jazz Festival. The award was to open the concert that evening..
“I think if we polled all the kids in the band, that would be their favorite moment of the year. It felt like that for me,” David LaClair, jazz program director for Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District, said.
Senior Victor Ruiz, the band’s lead trombone player, who will enter Texas A&M Univerwity in the fall to study music education, recalled the moment.
“I thought being able to perform on that stage before everyone else and the guest artists they had was just amazing,” Ruiz said last week inside the LFHS band hall.
“Everyone loved us. It was nice seeing all the reactions to all our solos and everything we played. It was nice knowing that those people were there to watch jazz,” he said.
Being named grand champion of the UT jazz festival was one of three such awards this spring for the Los Fresnos High School Jazz Band I, a group that practices together after school and is unusual in that the program has no dedicated jazz band class.
The weekend before UT, the band was named grand champion of the annual Texas A&M-Kingsville Jazz Festival, and on April 29 won the grand championship of the 2023 Rio Grande Valley Jazz Festival in Port Isabel.
The band has 17 members, grouped around piano, bass guitar and drums. “That’s the foundation for all our bands and then the ones that everybody sees are the saxophones, the trumpets and the trombones. It’s a classic big band in the style of Duke Ellington or Count Basie,” the legendary piano player whose style of fusing jazz and blues defined the swing era of the mid-20th century.
Senior trumpet player Elaina Garza, a three-time All-State musician, leads the band.
“The lead trumpet player is the leader of the whole band, is the boss, is the person who decides how things go, in the professional world and in our band. She’s that,” LaClair said.
Garza will enter the University of North Texas in Denton in the fall to study music education.
She said she became interested in jazz band as an eighth-grader “and then freshman year I actually joined the jazz band. I was in Jazz Band II and I started working my way up sophomore and junior year, she said.
LaClair said the tryout process for the LFHS jazz bands starts with the Texas Music Educators Association all-state jazz process.
“That music comes out next week actually. So a year ago I would have passed that music out to the students to try out for the All Valley Jazz Band. I use that as material to also place the students in our jazz bands at LFHS and so we had about 16 students audition from Los Fresnos this year
In September, LaClair sets Jazz Band I, II and III placings, with Jazz Band III practicing before school and and the other two after school. As most of the Jazz Band students are also in the marching band, everyone, in effect, then takes a deep breath and devotes themselves to marching band and the high school football season, which keeps them extremely busy, LaClair said.
“Then we do our our best to play a song or two in our Christmas concert. That’s our debut for that band and then it really kicks off full speed when we come back from Christmas break,” he said.
La Clair said the band’s 2021-2022 version had a strong year, “and that kind of excited all of the students about what we were doing, so we had more students than ever audition for our jazz program, try out to be in it, so we could pick from the best and this year we had the largest number of students in the lower Valley make the All Valley Jazz Band from this school. Everybody all the way from Brownsville to Donna tries out. Nine of the 40 were from this school, so that was the jumping off point,” he said.
He said the band made a determination in September based on the previous year’s results, to participate in the three contest jazz festivals.
“We try to do a really wide variety of music. For instance this year we played an Earth Wind and Fire song, funk and disco music from the 70s, also played some of Duke Ellington’s music from the early days of the swing era, a ballad from a Broadway musical called “Send in the Clowns” and we also played some Latin-inspired music, Cuban cha-cha called Guantanamera, played some be-bop jazz. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s music, so we try to really cast a wide net when it comes to jazz, as many types of groove-based music as we can,” LaClair said.
LFHS Jazz Band 1 2023 Honors and Awards:
Texas A&M University Kingsville Jazz Festival:
>> Grand Champion
University of Texas at Austin Longhorn Jazz Festival:
>> Grand Champion
>> Emanuel Blanco – Outstanding Musician
Rio Grande Valley Jazz Festival:
>> Grand Champion
>> Outstanding Saxophone Section
>> Outstanding Trumpet Section
>> Outstanding Trombone Section
>> Outstanding Rhythm Section
>> Damon Rodriguez – Outstanding Musician
All Star Jazz Band (all contests combined):
>> Jonathan Quintero
>> Emanuel Blanco
>> Marco Acosta (x2)
>> Elaina Garza (x3)
>> Armando Vega (x3)
>> Damon Rodriguez (x3)