SOUTH PORTLAND – The opening group "Baby Carrots" of the Big School High School group's jazz band only has a few bars when he understood why the audience was only standing in front of Maine High School of the Maine Music Educators Association. Instrumental Jazz Festival.
With the click of the opening, the clicks and chopsticks, the 19-member ensemble has achieved a show worthy of a Greenwich Village jazz club. At the end of their performance, audience members stood up to applaud and applaud.
The Mount Desert Island High School group was one of 80 sets of 40 high schools in Maine competing Saturday at the South Portland High School Festival. More than 2,000 people came to school for the two-day festival, which opened Friday, said Craig Skeffington, director of the South Portland group and president of the association's instrumental jazz.
The event attracts spectators from all over the state, not just the parents of the group. A contingent of eight students from Caribou High School traveled five hours by car to watch, not play; Among them, Juniors Owen Martin, 17, and Abigail Wimmer, 16, who were impressed by the Old Town High School Jazz Ensemble.
Owen gave them the best notes of the day because of their groove. Abigail said it was their depth.
"They had the most balance, and overall each piece was together," said Abigail.
South Portland was not originally planned to host the event, but the original school was to be abandoned. Skeffington said that, despite the late notice, the festival went smoothly.
Each group had 25 minutes to convince the judges, who examined factors such as the ability to play together and the musical selection.
Some high schools have a strong tradition of jazz bands, which may be partly motivated by the director, said Skeffington. Some music directors are more oriented towards jazz than to concert or walk orchestras.
"And part of it is about children and their work ethic. If the group has been good, they want to continue this tradition, "said Skeffington.
About half a dozen Maine high schools regularly succeed in high school national jazz competitions. This year, at the Berklee Jazz Festival in Boston, Cape Elizabeth High School ranked second, South Portland and Mount Desert Island, and Fryeburg Academy and Westbrook High School, fourth, in their respective divisions.
On Saturday, Beth Chapman came from the Old City to hear her son, Alex Chapman, play the alto saxophone with the Old Town High School jazz group. She stated that her son, an elder, has been playing since the fourth grade and will likely continue in college.
"It's just a part of it now," she said.
Evan Robbins, 15, from Cape Elizabeth, a freshman at Baxter Academy, debuted at the trombone festival with the 12-member high school jazz group.
"It was the small group that could," said his father, Tim Robbins.
Evan said that he was nervous before the performance, but that he relaxed once on stage.
"I think it went well," he said.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:
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