School's jazz messengers

Tour: The Glenelg High School Jazz Ensemble heads to Europe, and will share the stage with some of the music's stars.

July 08, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

For many area high school bands, the pinnacle of the year might be a regional concert performance, or perhaps a trip to a national competition against their peers.

But the Glenelg High School Jazz Ensemble is taking that rite of passage to an international level. Yesterday, 21 young musicians departed for a European tour that includes performances at the Montreux International Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague, Netherlands, the world's largest festivals of their kind.

Based on a taped audition, the Glenelg High School group was one of 10 bands picked from among more than 300 high school and college entrants. They will share stage time with such high-profile professionals as Herbie Hancock, the Count Basie Orchestra and Arturo Sandoval.

"They don't have to send in a tape," joked Glenelg jazz band director Barry Enzman. "The North Sea is considered to be the Super Bowl. When you're a high school band, you don't get to go to the North Sea festival. It's a tremendous opportunity. It's a tremendous experience for the director, too, by the way."

While the experience will be new for several of the students, the jazz band has previously attended both festivals, including a similar tour three years ago. It will be the second visit for Glenelg senior Samantha Johnston, who went on the trip her freshman year.

"It was one of the best experiences I've ever had," said Johnston, who plays the double bass. "It was overwhelming. We were playing with all these big jazz giants. It just excited me about the whole music scene."

As they did three years ago, the band members also will travel to Freiburg, Germany, staying with local families and playing at the Jazz House, a venue once graced by the likes of Miles Davis.

"There's a band in Freiburg that we stay with," said Eric Bassett, a tenor saxophonist and senior who also went his freshman year. "We went to school with the actual students in the band that was over there. Music is like an international language. We all played together."

Enzman said the experience is often a heady one for the students.

The magnitude of the festivals, combined with the proximity of world-famous performers and thousands of appreciative music lovers, makes an indelible impression that former band members rave about years later, he said.

"Once you pull up to the North Sea, probably on a given night, upward of 50,000 people will be at the festival that night," Enzman said. "That's when their eyes get real big. They're [the audience] very appreciative of what you're doing. That's a real kick to the kids."

"It was overwhelming, really," Bassett said of the North Sea festival. "It was pretty much a city block with thousands of people there, music coming from everywhere. There's just stuff everywhere."

The students are treated like professional musicians, performing sound checks and setting up just like the other bands, Enzman said.

It's a hectic schedule, with the North Sea Jazz Festival running 13 venues from late afternoon until the wee hours of the morning.

After arriving in Amsterdam, the band will play the North Sea festival this weekend before heading to Germany for three days. From there, its members will finish their tour July 15-18 at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

"It's real exciting," Enzman said. "It's a credit to the hard work that the kids do. It's amazing what they can do."

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