Yakima salsa band spicing up Idaho jazz gala
A band of Yakima musicians isn't looking to be better than everyone else at this week's Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival at the...
A band of Yakima musicians isn't looking to be better than everyone else at this week's Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival at the University of Idaho in Moscow.
It's looking to be completely different.
When the bus of Yakima Valley Community College (YVCC) musicians left town Wednesday, they took along congas, timbales, claves and festive Latin shirts. Instead of presenting the usual array of big-band standards, YVCC once again is spicing things up by sending a salsa band.
"What a fun addition to the festival," Joni Kirk, assistant director of media relations for the University of Idaho, says with a bit of surprise. "That is definitely something unique."
But Latin jazz isn't the only lick YVCC has up its sleeve for the prestigious Lionel Hampton festival, which will draw about 10,500 music students to compete this year. The YVCC Salsa Band will be playing an eight-tune set of all original compositions — an unheard-of feat — penned by the musicians, who include high-school and community-college students as well as local music educators looking for an outlet to play the music they love.
"Wow," Kirk says. "We do get some from time to time, but eight new compositions is really outstanding."
Named after the late jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, the more-than-40-year-old festival features concerts, workshops, clinics and critiques by well-known jazz musicians, as well as the competition that attracts elementary-through graduate-school music students in the United States and Canada. This year, 300 schools will be represented.
In addition to the eight new Latin jazz pieces, the YVCC Jazztet, a four-person combo, will debut a four-movement free-jazz suite.
It's all part of YVCC's tradition of doing something different, says 14-year-old pianist Ben Barb, a freshman at Davis High School. Barb wrote a mambo piece aptly titled "The Experiment."
The composing process began at the start of the school year in September when YVCC jazz instructor David Blink promised his students the opportunity to record a CD if they came up with an entire set of original tunes.
As he promised, the band heads up to Central Washington University next month to record.
"So that was a little boost," says 21-year-old Jake Jarvis, who has more of a classical-music background but in the salsa band keeps the beat on congas and claves, those wooden sticks with a bright clinking sound.
Some of the compositions began with just a cool lick, such as 17-year-old trumpet player Chelsea Sylvanus' cha-cha called "Sarcasm in Clave." It's the Selah High School senior's first composition.
"Medicine Roots," written in an Afro-Cuban style by 26-year-old percussionist Michael David Bushman, began with a bass line. Saxophonist Nick Sokol, 17, heard most of his piece in his head from the start.
Jeff Chang, a 31-year-old alto sax player and band teacher at White Swan High School, recently moved here from the East Coast. His composition — or at least the title — was inspired by his years living in Boston.
"I was drinking beer and watching the World Series," says Chang, who named his piece "Yankees Really Suck."
Although the compositions were in the works for months, fine-tuning went down to the wire.
In two rehearsals leading up to a concert in YVCC's student union building Tuesday, and Wednesday's departure for Moscow, erasers scrubbed out old markings and new notes were penciled in as the composers let out exasperated sighs. It's a frustrating process, they admit.
It's also a learning process.
"There were defiantly licks I wrote that were unplayable," Sylvanus says of her first charts.
But the only way to become a better composer, says Chang, is to write — and hear it immediately. And this kind of collaborative writing workshop is a rare opportunity, especially for a community college, notes Chang, who's studied at the Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory, both in Boston, and the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.
"The compositions and the band grow together," he explains. "We're writing personal parts; we're not just writing notes."
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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