Mountlake Terrace High School band director Darin Faul received a phone call during the passing period before the second period Jazz Ensemble 1 class on Tuesday, Feb. 13. When he saw the caller ID said New York, he said he “played it cool on the phone.”
“I had to get them [Jazz 1] all in one place and I said, ‘We’re in,’” Faul said. “They started screaming and jumped up and were high-fiving and hugging and probably texting their parents.”
Jazz at Lincoln Center (JLC) announced the class as one of 15 finalists for the 23rd annual Essentially Ellington Competition & Festival (EE) in New York. Among the 109 jazz bands nationwide that auditioned, MTHS, Ballard High School and Roosevelt High School all advanced from Washington state.
This achievement marks the second consecutive year and eighth overall time MTHS has advanced as finalists for EE. MTHS Jazz 1 also attended EE in 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2017.
Unlike last year, Faul controlled himself and had his guest teacher film the band’s reaction to the news per the request of JLC.
“Last year I went into the room and told [the class] while I had the people from New York on the phone,” Faul said. “I didn’t lose my mind like I did last year. I didn’t want them to know before I told them.”
Faul sees the two-year running record of attending EE as being symbolic of the band’s ability to consistently work hard and keep improving.
“Sometimes it’s hard to survive your success. If you have worked hard at something and you’re successful, then you sometimes forget how you repeat that; you forget how hard you had to work,” Faul said.
He credits part of the repeated success of Jazz 1 to the wisdom and guidance of returning members.
“It’s really hard if you don’t have anyone who’s been [to EE before] to help [new members] understand why they would want to work harder than they really want to work in order to go,” Faul said. “When you have people who’ve been, they play a huge role in helping everybody who’s new understand how good the music has to be, what the process is.”
Nonetheless, new Jazz 1 members possess just as much, if not more, of a drive as older members to become EE finalists.
“There’s a hunger that comes from the people who are new for going because they heard from the people going how cool it was so they want to go. In fact, I would say for our ensemble, perhaps the biggest drivers were some of the people who didn’t go last time,” Faul said.
Band members stepped up their skills as individual musicians and as leaders in the band from organizing sectionals to adjusting their lineup from the previous year to making the risky decision of changing their final submission to EE just hours before the deadline.
After the initial recordings concluded, Faul felt they “were not in great shape” and “one of the tunes was just not very good.” Jazz 1 also contended with encountering a canceled recording session.
Senior Ethan Pyke and junior Henry Smith-Hunt, both trombonists, took the initiative to organize a re-recording session the night before Jazz 1 had to submit their audition on Friday, Jan. 26. Faul left the matter in their hands and said he would not attend that recording unless asked. Had they not returned that night, Faul doubts Jazz 1 would have advanced to EE.
Though Faul admits he hasn’t had much time to process the reality that Jazz 1 would go to New York, he’s started brainstorming ways to change up the experience from last year.
“There are things for me personally that I would like to do different. Musically, I think we may switch up the tunes and do something different in New York than we actually have recorded. I want the music and everything to feel fresh and spontaneous,” Faul said. “I think there’s a way to continue to progress without just focusing on the three tunes [chosen for the EE performance].”
As Faul recalled from Jazz 1’s 2012 entry into EE, he hopes to see this year’s accomplishment as a confidence booster within the band department.
“There’s a certain amount of excitement that happens, that seeps into the whole program, not just for the jazz band, not just for Jazz 1. Concert Band students become energized around the whole thing also,” he said.
Faul also anticipates for the school and local community to engage and buy into the EE process to follow Jazz 1’s journey and musical progress.
“It’s nice when you have some success. It’s recognized outside of your building,” Faul said. “People like to be a part of that energy. They like to be there with you and share in it, which I think is really great.”
He hopes to see more than community members commending the band program’s efforts. Faul encourages people to hear the band in action during their upcoming concerts.
“I think there’s… school support but I don’t know if there’s action behind that support sometimes. It would be nice if people came once in a while. Come to Hot Java [Cool Jazz]. Hear the band. Go to a school concert. That would be sweet. We would love that,” he said.
All bands will put on a winter band concert on Thursday, March 1. Jazz 1 will perform at the annual Hot Java Cool Jazz concert at the Paramount Theater, hosted by Starbucks, on Friday, March 30.
The 22 members of Jazz 1 will participate in EE from May 10-12 at Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York. As they prepare for EE, they would like all the support a community could give them.
–By Annika Prom, MTHS Hawkeye