By ANUSHREE SREEDHAR, senior
“Do you even know what jazz is?” I was ready to jump and protest at the tone of my father’s question when I realized that I had never been exposed to live jazz; I had only known it as “improvisational scat rhythms.”
I retaliated, “Well, I will know by the end of the night.” Later on in the day, I attended the JP Stevens Band’s Jazz Festival, where many high school jazz bands performed and showcased their talents. The JP Top Jazz Band opened the program for the night with Maynard Ferguson’s version of the bebop standard “Four.” The band then created a more mellow atmosphere by performing a ballad called “Now Playing” by Bob Florence, serenading the audience with the melodious sounds of the flugelhorn played by senior Bryan Lin. The third piece the band performed, appropriately named “Groovin’ High,” enraptured the audience with its unique rhythms. Solos colored each one of the pieces, adding character to the works and exemplifying the jazz tradition. The music was especially significant to Bryan, a member of Top Jazz. He said, “Jazz is the fuel that gets me through the stress of high school. When I play jazz music, I relax, forget all my worries, and just have fun.” These talented students weren’t just robotically playing their sheet music. Rather, the music was within them; the music they played, pure and unadulterated, was in their hearts.
The excitement of the audience escalated with the performance of Al Chez and the Brothers of Funk, who played with a great deal of energy and musicality. Years ago, Al Cheznovitz walked the halls of JP and studied under Mr. DeNicola. After high school, he continued his studies in music, primarily focusing on the trumpet and flugelhorn, and toured with Jon Bon Jovi, the Rolling Stones, Maynard Ferguson, and other greats. He was also part of the CBS Orchestra on the Late Show with David Letterman. In 2008, Al Chez formed his own band, the Brothers of Funk, that fuses rock, funk, and jazz in its music. A member of Top Jazz, senior Poonam Gupta, recounted, “The JP Jazz festivals have always been the experience of a lifetime, and this year was no different. Though my ears are still ringing, Al Chez was truly an inspiration to listen to.”
Al Chez seemed almost divine as he passionately played a lick of high notes and simultaneously conducted the Brothers of Funk.
It was one thing to hear the band, but another to see it perform. Everyone felt the music; listeners tapped their feet, bobbed their heads, and smiled from under their mouthpieces. Every song contained a new emotion, a new story. The audience was enraptured; some students even used their phones as miniature glow sticks as they swayed with the beat.
Al Chez concluded the night by inviting the entire JP Top Jazz Band and a select few jazz members from other high school jazz bands onstage. In this final number, many students had the privilege of debuting their ability to “improv.” Senior Justin Jones, a Top Jazz saxophone player, reminisced, “Playing with Al Chez was unforgettable—he is an inspiration to all future musicians, including myself.”
I wanted the night to continue; I wanted to hear the roar of the saxophone, the runs on the piano, the majestic trumpet. I returned home wanting to know more about jazz, so I began researching great jazz artists and pieces.