Let the music play! Jazz band won't quit despite cuts

February 5, 2010 7:27:11 PM PST
Monday night at Yoshi's in Oakland it's jazz by high school and middle schools bands. The headliners are the award-winning El Cerrito High School Jazz Band. To make that music means sacrifice by the students and by their parents.

It's 7 a.m. before school is open and before classes begin, and the El Cerrito High School Jazz Band is rehearsing for a Monday night gig at Yoshi's. The band did not stop the music even after the school district cut the class last year.

"We kept it going as a club so the students don't get any grades or anything like that," music instructor Keith Johnson said. "They just show up because they want to play."

Most of the musicians are seniors. They have been playing together since middle school. So this band is tight, thanks in large measure to Johnson. He was once a student there, too. So he knows why music is so important.

"For me it's really a passion of mine, so I come in every morning. I'm ready. I'm ready to play and it's a lot of fun," drummer Marshall Williams said.

"I've never really been a morning person," trumpet player Michael Knight said. "I won't lie. I don't do mornings well. But it's all kind of worth it."

You know there really is an advantage to practicing on their own time. Calfornia music educators have named them a superior band, and last week they took first place at the Folsom Jazz Festival.

But they could not do it without their parents' support. When the class was eliminated, they formed "Friends of El Cerrito Music" to offset costs and they hired Johnson. They have kept it going.

"Their goal is to show the district that there is a strong interest in an arts program," Johnson said.

The Yoshi's performance is part of that fundraising. They are hoping band fans will show up.

"They're supportive," saxophone player Patrick Schlesinger said. "It's not exactly like a football game, we don't get everybody out here, but we've got a few diehard fans."

It is, after all, about the music.

"It's really enjoyable to see kids get it, you know," Johnson said.

The El Cerrito High School Jazz Band and the Portola Middle School Ensemble play two shows at 8 and 10 p.m. Monday night at Yoshi's in Oakland.