Shawnee Mission East is proud to boast not one, but two jazz bands. The entry-level group, ‘The Blue Notes,’ and ‘The Blue Knights,” the upper-level ensemble, are both regionally recognized, with a number of awards and titles under their belts.
The bands both have around 16 to 19 members in each. “Being quite a small group makes us close, like a family,” Mary Gretskas, a senior who plays saxophone in The Blue Knights, said. Each band has five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets and a rhythm section.
Mary has been involved with jazz band since she took up saxophone in freshman year, and says her favorite thing about being in it “is when [they] give a really great performance, because [they] all know just how hard we worked to achieve it.”
The bands rehearse in their jazz band class in room 210 either 3rd or 4th hour, and sometimes before school. “In our rehearsals we just come in and play through songs. And each time we each individually try to improve our own performance. It’s very chilled out,” senior Philip Olsen, who plays trumpet in Knights said.
They generally play well-known jazz music, including pieces by composers Ellington and Basie, and every year hold a ‘Jazz Night,’ a big concert to raise funds for the program. They are led by East’s Director of Bands, Mr Harrison.
Kevin Cerovich, lead trombone/jazz chair in the United States Air Force Falconaires Jazz Band, is one of several East alumni who have gone on from Blue Knights to pursue successful jazz careers. Kevin graduated in 2003, and in 2008 was named greatest 18-25 year old jazz trombonist worldwide, by the International Trombone Symposium.
An exciting endeavor coming up for The Blue Knights is the Essentially Ellington competition, an annual high school jazz festival and competition that takes place every May at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. The festival is directed by the famous trumpet player, Wynton Marsalis, and is the most prestigious event for high school jazz musicians internationally. East’s Blue Knights have been invited to the festival twice before; in 2001 and in 2006, gaining them national attention. “I’m really excited because last year we didn’t audition, so this year’s my last opportunity,” Phillip Olsen said.