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Sharing the desire for the glory of the jazz age, nine students from the Central High School Jazz Band performed on stage at this year’s West Oak Lane Jazz and Arts Festival. This was the band’s first time performing at the festival.
“This festival gives us a chance to play at a different venue,” 17-year-old guitarist Ian Skahill said. “It’s nice to perform for other people at non-school related events.”
The jazz band started three years ago and performs at school concerts sporadically throughout the year. They practice twice a week for hour-long sessions at the high school. The festival event was a last-minute notice and the band only practiced twice prior to its performance. The pianist Brandon Turner took the lead and quickly got his fellow band mates together to seize the opportunity to perform outside of school and made sure everyone was involved, prepared and comforted.
“Brandon deserves all the credit he gets,” 18-year-old singer Alexus McNeal said. “He’s nice to everyone and makes sure everyone is taken care of.”
In previous years, many of the band members attended the festival to watch the featured award-winning jazz musicians yearning to someday be on the same stage. On Saturday, their yearning came into fruition. The smaller ensemble of the 15-man-band, dressed in black attire, played old-time and modern jazz for a crowd of festival-goers. The crowd was made up of friends and families of the band members, jazz aficionados from in and outside of Philadelphia and the Central High School Jazz Band Director Michael Franchetti. The band performed “The Man I Love” (1924), “Fly Me to the Moon” (1954) and “Ribbon in the Sky” (1982). From Frank Sinatra to Stevie Wonder, the band played confidently and gracefully under the direction of 17-year-old Turner.
“He loves being part of this jazz band,” said Alva Turner, mother of Brandon who is fully supportive of his passion for music. “He has played the piano and organ for nine years and first got involved with music through church.”
Before the performance began, Turner spoke to the members in the band and looked over their sheet music to double check that their songs were lined up in order. Before each song began, the young musicians looked to Turner for a signal to start on his count. As his fingers glided across the keys and his eyes intently followed the sheet music, Turner moved his head rhythmically to the sounds of his school’s jazz band.
“Why jazz?” Turner said. “Because jazz is the expression of the soul.”