Students travel to New Orleans for a jazz festival

Juniors Mikey Schwartz and Jason Seavey traveled to New Orleans, La. to participate in the annual Crescent City Jazz Festival, collecting several awards along the way.

From March 12 through 15, the two musicians performed with the SFJazz High School All-Stars in performances and attended clinics, where they learned to improve their ensemble’s sound while immersed in the musical atmosphere in which jazz was created.

The SFJazz All Stars perform in front of an audience during the Crescent City Jazz Festival in New Orleans
The SFJazz All Stars perform in front of an audience during the Crescent City Jazz Festival in New Orleans

Schwartz’s saxophone skills and Seavey’s trumpeting prowess were rewarded with soloist awards that they received for their performances at the festival, and the SFJazz High School All-Stars won several awards for having an outstanding ensemble.

Despite receiving awards, the event was not so much a competition as an opportunity for the ensemble to perform for audiences and get constructive criticism from experts, according to Schwartz.

“We had the two groups play in front of the panel of judges. After the performance ended, the judges would stand up and give their criticism to us, and tell us what was good and what to work on,” Schwartz said.

The event was especially exciting for the musicians because they had the opportunity to  experience the culture that permeated the homeland of Jazz.

“In Jackson Square, where they had the first slaves coming over from Africa, that was where the roots of jazz came from,” Seavey explained. “They’d get together in a circle in Jackson Square and they’d perform ensemble pieces. People would take solos on percussion instruments or whatever they were playing and singing and that established some of the tradition of jazz.”

Since the arrival of the first slaves, jazz music has evolved and seeped into every fiber of life in the city according to both Seavey and Schwartz.

“There’s a band playing every 20 square feet. You pass every restaurant, every bar, and there’s

a top-notch band playing there. [At] every street corner, there’s a group of 20 musicians, all extremely soulful and passionate, just playing and sharing music with each other,” Schwartz

Junior Mikey Schwartz plays with the SFJazz All Stars in a competition in Monterey on March 28 to 29.
Junior Mikey Schwartz plays with the SFJazz All Stars in a competition in Monterey on March 28 to 29.

said.

“For musicians who otherwise just play together once every week in a small place in San Francisco, it was a very eye-opening experience,” he added.

Schwartz’s musical career began in elementary school when he tried many instruments and realized that the saxophone was the only instrument he could get a sound out of.

“I was playing chamber music for first year musicians, and I hated it. I was one of the worst musicians in my band,” Schwartz said.

Upon reaching middle school, Schwartz was introduced to jazz by his band teacher, and he immediately felt attracted to the genre because of the spontaneous composition that is involved in jazz improvisation.

“It’s something that’s like speaking. It’s like playing melodies and reflecting upon your ideas,” Schwartz said.

Seavey has always been immersed in jazz music, along with other genres, as his father was a professional trombonist who toured the Bay Area and Europe. When he was told to pick an instrument to play at Kent Middle School, Seavey chose the trumpet.

“My dad plays trombone so I didn’t want to copy it by playing the trombone, but I also liked the brass timbre and that power that comes with the brass instrument, so I chose the trumpet,” Seavey said.

When he got to high school, Seavey’s intensity and passion for the instrument grew as he met more skilled and committed musicians.

“We have a particularly strong group of musicians in our grade, the class of 2016,” Seavey said. “[When] I got into high school, I was able to collaborate more with skilled musicians like [Schwartz] and I was able to connect with my dad on the topic of music. That really raised my [intensity] level.”

And while Seavey said he is inspired by the intensity of the musicians with whom he collaborates, the dedication of his band members from the SFJazz High School All-Stars sometimes discourages him from deciding to pursue a career as a musician.

“They have a certain maturity where you can see that they’re interacting with jazz and music for the majority of their day,” Seavey said, adding that many of the members attend online high schools, which allows them to dedicate more time to practicing and composing music.

According to Schwartz, most musicians in SFJazz All Stars have decided that they want to pursue a musical career. They therefore attend online high school in order to pursue their musical passion full-time, instead of going to school for eight hours and then practicing with any extra time they might have.

Schwartz and Seavey themselves are very passionate about music, but are not sure they want to have a musical career, which Seavey feels can set him aside from the rest of the band.

“It’s funny for Jason and I because we’re sure that we want to continue music, but we’re not sure if we want to make a career out of it because we have other interests that we’d like to focus on,” Schwartz said.