West High jazz bands host Jazz Cafe

The annual Jazz Cafe was brought back this year after a brief hiatus due to COVID-19.

Audrey Parrish and Lee Corlette

For the first time since 2019, the West High Jazz Cafe was held on Saturday, Dec. 10. This concert is a staple of the West High jazz community and usually happens on an annual basis, but this tradition was interrupted by COVID-19. This year, the Jazz Cafe was back on in its usual form. The three jazz bands performed a cozy concert in the cafeteria which had been decorated with festive lights, trees and garlands. Tables had been set out in front of a stage where the bands performed. Snacks were donated by band families and were available for purchase for two dollars a piece, all profits went to benefit the band program. Guest artists also performed with the bands. 

The day before the concert, all three jazz bands conducted clinics with the guest artists. Emiliano Lasansky, string bass, and Julien Knowles, trumpet, are both currently attending the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz and performing in the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance Ensemble, among other ensembles. Lasansky also happens to be a West High alum. He commented on the Jazz Cafe. “When I was a student, it was always my favorite concert to play each year. Just had such a different feeling to it than all the other concerts. (…) it’s really nice to be back and be a part of it.” 

Clinics happened during the school day and each band played their set accompanied by Lasansky and Knowles and got feedback on their playing and style. These clinics were prepping the bands for the Cafe the next evening. 

The Jazz Cafe started at 7 p.m. on the 10. Before any of the bands played, a jazz combo made up of JD Deninger ’23, trombone; Damien Kim ’23, tenor saxophone; Anish Lodh ’23, drums; and James Dickens ’23, bass. Varsity Jazz Band performed after this, directed by Ryan Middleton and student teacher Sam Kelly. Gwen Smith ’26, a trombone player in the Varsity Jazz Band, explained how she feels about the performance. “…it’s pretty exciting because we worked pretty hard on this music. I’ve sacrificed many, many early mornings.”  

Then was the Symphonic Jazz Band conducted by Rob Medd. Lastly, the Jazz Ensemble was performed conducted by Ryan Middleton. “There hasn’t been a true Jazz Cafe since my freshman year.” Said Deninger, a trombone player in the Jazz Ensemble. “And so it was a long time ago, but it’s really, really nice to be back and have the same kind of feel that it used to have.” 

Lasansky and Knowles played along with all three bands and performed a ballad duet, “Polka Dots and Moonbeams”, in the middle of the Jazz Ensemble’s performance.