MIHS Jazz Ensemble Wins at Mead

Photo+Courtesy+Jake+Levin

Photo Courtesy Jake Levin

Alex Levin, Editor in Chief

The MIHS Jazz Ensemble traveled to Mead High School in Spokane, Wash., and placed first in the 2022 Mead Jazz Festival on Saturday, March 26.

The group did not have high expectations going into the competition, but ultimately advanced from the preliminary round to finals and walked away with a first-place trophy.

“[Winning] really wasn’t the goal for any of us,” trombone player Matthew Kurt said. “[The competition] was a chance to listen to a lot of other bands … and so I wasn’t expecting to win or do anything close to where we ended up, but I was really really happy that we did.”

In prelims, Mercer Island performed Sammie Nestico’s “88 Basie Street,” followed by Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count” and James Knapp’s “Combos in Indiana.”

In the final round, the group impressed the judges with Quincy Jones’ “Stockholm Sweetnin’” and Tom Kubis’ “Witchcraft?”

“Our big closing song, ‘Witchcraft?’ … was really this big climax for our entire division,” Kurt said. “It was really exciting hitting that high note at the end, holding that with these insane dynamics— I think that was really my favorite part of performing.”

Additionally, Jazz Ensemble saxophone player Cindy Huang and pianist Ryan Xi both won Outstanding Soloist awards.

“We have a lot of individuals that really put all this work in on their own and I think that’s a good guideline for the rest of us,” Kurt said. “Seeing these people who put hours and hours every single day into their music, it makes you want to be a little bit more like them.”

The Jazz Ensemble was not the only MIHS jazz group to triumph at the festival. Jazz 2, Mercer Island’s second-tier jazz band, advanced to finals at the 2A level and placed third.

The group was supposed to be disqualified since they were playing with a Jazz Ensemble bassist, but the judges insisted they play in finals anyway.

“[Jazz 2] didn’t go in expecting to play for victory, they went in just looking to have fun, and that alone let them play well enough to make these finals,” Kurt said. “That just goes to show that the Mercer Island jazz kids aren’t playing for the competitions. They’ve been putting the work in and I think it shows.”

While seniors like Kurt, Hoang and Xi are in their final year with the MIHS Jazz, they will be leaving the program in good hands.

“It’s always scary to imagine what it would be like after you’re gone,” Kurt said. “I think Jazz 2 and 3, especially coming out of COVID, are sounding as good or better than they have in years past, and so that makes me really really hopeful for the future.”