Have jazz, will travel


At the Jazz a Vienne festival in France this summer, the Count Basie Orchestra and New York's Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra will take the stage along with famous acts such as tenor sax player Michael Brecker, the Roy Hargrove Quintet, the River Hill High School Jazz Ensemble and guitarist Pat Metheny.

The River Hill High School Jazz Ensemble?

OK. Maybe the 34-member Clarksville jazz band isn't that famous.

But the group is the only high school band chosen to participate in the seven-day international festival that begins in southeastern France today. They are to return July 15.

It's a big plume in the collective beret of the high school musicians, especially because their band - like the high school - has been in existence for only four years.

"It's cool because Glenelg [High School], right down the road, they do stuff like this all the time. And they're a really old school," said trumpet player Chris Bonebreak, a senior. "So the fact that we're so new and we get to go, too, it's kind of like we've done so much more in a shorter time.

"It's like they're no longer the kings of jazz in this county. We're creeping up."

Band director Steven Wampler said no other Howard County school jazz bands auditioned for a spot in the festival, but many other high schools nationwide did.

"All the rest [of the performers] are professional groups," Wampler said. "We busted our butts to be in this thing."

To be selected, the ensemble sent recordings to festival organizers all year long, showing how well the band played and that it improved as time went on.

The band members were elated to learn that they had been selected, and they have been on cloud neuf ever since.

"This is definitely the big one," said senior Danielle Knaack, who plays drums. "There are a lot of people in this department who want to go, and only the jazz band gets to go," said pianist Tiffany Underwood, a junior.

Lugging more than 700 pounds of equipment and instruments, the band leaves today and will arrive tomorrow in Paris, where members and chaperones will tour sights such as the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Louvre. Its first performance is Thursday at the Champs de Mars, the base of the Eiffel Tower. That night, select members of the band will perform at the Studio des Islettes, a Paris jazz club.

Over the 10 days, the band will perform five times, sightsee a lot, shop and eat. Band members also will travel to western Switzerland and listen in as guests at the Montreux Jazz Festival, which Wampler said is one of the biggest international jazz festivals in the world. They'll participate in music workshops there and learn from contemporary jazz greats.

"It'll be a great experience," Wampler said, "culturally and musically."

The students are also anticipating other experiences.

"Andrew and I are looking forward to finding good-looking French women," said trumpet player Jonathan Cox, referring to his best friend, guitarist Andrew Dell. Both will be freshmen at Virginia Tech this fall.

Underwood wants to practice her four years of French classes on the country's natives. Bonebreak is hungering for French food. "And cute French boys," she said.

That is why, Wampler said teasingly, there are many chaperones going on the trip, which cost about $2,500 per person.

To earn money, the band members staged fund-raisers all year long, selling fruit, pizza, Tupperware, coupon books and submarine sandwiches, and holding car washes and concerts, including their latest at The Mall in Columbia last week.

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