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Originally published April 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 30, 2008 at 11:20 AM

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Bellevue High School festival a high note for jazz bands

About 20 sets of tennis shoes tapped to the sound of the sleepy-eyed bassist's plucking. Then, in a rush of music, the trumpets joined the...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Bellevue High Jazz Festival

Evening performances

All events are at the Bellevue High School Performing Arts Center, 10416 Wolverine Way. For more information, visit: bellevuehighband.com/pages/bell-jazz/belljazz.html.

Friday: 7:30 p.m. Junior-high and middle-school division finalists perform; Bellevue High School jazz band performance; and winner announcements. Admission is $7.

Saturday: 7:30 p.m. High school A-AA, AAA and AAAA division finalists perform; Central Washington University performance; and winner announcements. Admission is $10.

About 20 sets of tennis shoes tapped to the sound of the sleepy-eyed bassist's plucking. Then, in a rush of music, the trumpets joined the beat.

It wasn't what Newport High School band teacher Matt Eisenhauer wanted.

"Don't be so cautious," he said to the trumpet players. "One, two and a one, two, hip hop."

The band started again with a burst of energy.

It was a typical 6:30 a.m. practice on Tuesday, as Newport's top jazz band was working out the final kinks in its sets for this weekend's Bellevue High Jazz Festival.

Bellevue's festival, one of the largest in the state, is expected to attract 1,000 musicians from 50 middle-school, junior-high and high-school bands in Washington and Oregon.

Washington is considered one of the top states in high-school jazz-band competitions. This year five of the 15 bands accepted into the premier Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival are from the Puget Sound area.

"The Seattle area clearly has demonstrated high-quality jazz-education programs for a number of years," said Erika Floreska, director of education at Jazz at Lincoln Center, which hosts the New York competition. "We're really impressed with Washington state."

At Newport, the bands enter about five competitions a year, said band teacher Edd George.

"Having bands compete is a good motivator for students," he said.

The competitions are also fun, said trombone player Sherwin Lee, 17.

"When we get on stage, that adrenaline turns to a sense of excitement," he said.

The school has three jazz bands, which meet daily before most of their classmates come to school. Many of the students also take private lessons, and some join casual jam sessions after class.

"I just love to play," said 17-year-old guitarist Eli Meisner.

Each band has about 18 members and typically features a large brass section with trombones, saxophones and trumpets, along with a variety of strings and percussion.

Organizing the festival may seem a daunting task, but previous teachers have left a detailed plan, said Vince Caruso, Bellevue High School band teacher.

"You basically follow a script," he said.

Each band performs for 20 minutes, and then has a 20-minute clinic with one of the four judges who critiques the performance and offers advice. Three of the judges are from Washington colleges and one is from Colorado State University.

"Everyone is getting to perform for their peers, and they're getting feedback," Caruso said. "They're getting to hear back from a clinician, a professional in their field."

The bands play during the day, and the top three in each division are invited to play again at the evening show. Those playing Friday are the middle schools and junior highs, including ninth-graders.

Saturday, the high-school bands will play in divisions according to size.

The Saturday-evening show will also include a special performance by some of the judges and students from Bellevue High School.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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