So just how excited are these teenage musicians about opening up
for the SFJazz Collective?
Joey Cozza: "We're definitely excited about it, we can't
wait to get up there and just play our best." Emery Mesic:
"Playing with those amazing musicians will be like a once in a
lifetime experience." "Conley: Last word? Jeric Rocamora: Yeah…."
Joey Cozza, Emery Mesic and Jeric Rocamora are members of the
Mondavi Center-SFJAZZ High School All-Stars, a group that 6
months ago didn't exist. After open auditions, the 8-member
band was assembled in November as part of an educational outreach
project sponsored by the Mondavi Center and modeled after a similar
MCMULLEN: "You could call it prep for the big
Jazz musician and educator Mike McMullen was charged with
coaching these top players from various high schools. He says one
of the goals of the project was to give them a taste of what it
takes to be a professional musician -- the hard work and dedication
necessary - all leading up to their performance tonight, opening
for professional jazz group.
MCMULLEN: "They're prepared. They're nervous in the
sense of wow, there's gonna be a thousand people out there. But
they're not nervous about the difficulty of the music because they
have rehearsed and they have gelled, I mean they're pretty
comfortable playing it."
Part of that comfort is the result of warm up shows like this
one performed by the teenagers a few weeks ago at JB's Lounge. But
pianist Joey Cozza says getting comfortable with this music is not
COZZA: "We're playing the arrangements that the SF Jazz
Collective uses themselves so it's a lot more complicated than your
average high school band."
Learning to play in the unusual time signatures favored by the
Collective was part of the takeaway for sax player Emery
MESIC: "Dealing with different rhythms, going in between
them, in and out of them… there's this one bar of 15/16 in one of
the songs and like at first I had no idea how to count that at
all. (Conley) How do you count it? You don't count it, you
just feel it."
Perhaps trumpeter Jeric Rocamora sums it up best.
ROCAMORA: "It's definitely great to listen to and it's
even more fun to play."
But being a professional musician is about more than just
playing. And McMullen says that was an important part of this
MCMULLEN: "Who's gonna speak for the band? Who's gonna
fulfill the function of the music director and count the tune
off? Who's gonna make sure that everybody's music is up and
ready? I don't think they ever thought that there were
business elements inside any kind of band. And it just makes
them much more aware of the professional level."
As much mentoring as McMullen provided, there's no substitute
for a young jazz musician performing shoulder to shoulder with a
jazz master. And that, he says with a twinkle in his eye,
will happen tonight.
MCMULLEN: "We didn't tell them this until about two weeks
ago but four of the members of the SFJazz Collective are gonna sit
in at the end of the set. And the kids when I told them this
nearly lept out of their skins."
MESIC: "And we're gonna jam together. It'll be
really something else because like they're insane and we're just
Students who, according to Mike McMullen, are very likely to
become professional musicians.