SFJAZZ.org | High School All-Stars Release First Live Album

On The Corner Masthead

HiGh school All-Stars release first live album!

August 24, 2020 | by Rebeca Mauleón

2020 has certainly been a year of firsts, and while not all of them are exactly what we had in mind, this particular first is a joy to share with our SFJAZZ community. Last December (of 2019), our High School All-Stars entered the SFJAZZ Center’s beautiful Miner Auditorium, prepared to give another stellar performance as part of their winter showcase. After three-plus months of honing the repertoire, they took to the stage and delighted the crowd with two sets—one each by the Combo and Big Band—and truly gave their all. The afternoon concert also featured the premiere of a new work commissioned for the Big Band by bassist, bandleader, and SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Director Marcus Shelby, entitled “Cepeda,” in honor of Giants Hall-of-Famer Orlando Cepeda, and several stunning originals by members of the Combo. With supporters and family members in the hall, it was a lovely capstone to the first half of the year. As always, the performances were recorded as part of our archive. Little did anyone realize that this winter performance would result in the All-Stars’s very first live album!

In fact, this wouldn’t be a reality until months later, after an incredibly successful trip to New York City in February, where the All-Stars took part in the annual Mingus Festival and Competition, bringing home wins for the Combo and a plethora of individual performance and solo awards, not to mention some very generous scholarships from the New School (where the festival was held). As it turned out for the entire planet, the month of March sent us all sheltering-in-place, wondering what was to come. And while no one at SFJAZZ had any inclination as to what the rest of the school year would bring, we did realize that the All-Stars’ spring concert and planned studio album would likely not take place.

So, we turned to the archived December concert, and realized we had the makings of a great live album, not to mention the one ingredient we have since been longing for: a live audience. With the expert work of our incredible production staff and mixing/mastering engineers, we turned a 2-track recording into this first-ever live release for the All-Stars, and we couldn’t be prouder to share it with you!

We asked our illustrious band directors, Paul Contos (Big Band) and Dann Zinn (Combo), to provide some of their highlights from the performance (below), and hope you will enjoy listening to these gems and marvel at these extraordinarily talented young men and women. The pandemic may be keeping us from gathering to experience live music for the moment, but these recordings will hopefully share the promise that lies ahead.

From Combo Director, Dann Zinn:

“What can I say about this very strange year with my wonderful Combo? The music on this recording features a fantastic original, “Clock,” by our stellar saxophonist, flutist, and composer, Daiki Nakajima. The group comes out of the shoot with fiery brilliance and awe-inspiring solos. The next three tunes were written in preparation for the Mingus festival in NYC. Arranged by Oliver Tuttle, Aidan Pratte, and Daiki Nakajima, these early versions eventually took the group to new heights, resulting in the Combo winning the Mingus competition! And the final number, “I Wanna Take You Higher,” is an Aidan Pratte arrangement of SFJAZZ Collective member David Sánchez’s rendition of the famous Sly Stone tune. Please enjoy these exceptionally brilliant young musicians!”

From Big Band Director, Paul Contos:

“What a privilege to direct and bring to you this performance of the 2019-2020 SFJAZZ High School All-Stars Big Band! Catching the HSAS ‘in the moment’, will give you the exuberance of “Easy to Love,” the exquisitely lyrical work of Daiki Nakajima in “Sweet Sucker Dance” (by Mingus and Joni Mitchell), to their rousing delivery of genuine hard-swinging fire in Basie’s classic gem, “Blues In Hoss’ Flat” – all at one of the supreme jazz performance venues on planet Earth. To close your eyes and remember all of these astounding musicians haven’t even reached the tender age of 19 is a revelation. Please enjoy!”

Thank you for your support of the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars program! Each CD purchase goes directly to the program, and helps us provide student scholarships and mentoring opportunities for exceptionally talented students from the Bay Area.

To purchase the CD from SFJAZZ, please Click Here

To listen and purchase on Amazon, please Click Here

To listen on Spotify, please Click Here

To listen on Apple Music, please Click Here

In case you missed it, the Big Band opened this year’s virtual NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert with the amazing Dee Dee Bridgwater! Here's the video: