Standing in the orchestra room at Cedar Ridge High School as the jazz band steamroll through rehearsals for an upcoming performance, one might close your eyes and believe they’re picking up the sounds of a talented ensemble in a dark little club in New Orleans, minus the cigarette smoke, booze and 100% humidity.
The group charges forward – like a gathered energy – with its lively leader, Josh Cvijanovic, somehow keeping it subdued and focused. And then, like an electric arc, the sound of the trumpets bursts above the rest of the instruments to take the lead, and the volume goes up a notch or two.
Now your foot taps, eyes still closed, and you shake your head in disbelief. Just when you’re ready to roll out a Kerouac quote and call someone a “cat,” Cvijanovic leads the end of the song, and it’s over.
There is no doubt about the talent of this group of students from Cedar Ridge High School. It’s also no surprise that many of these top jazz musicians perform with other local groups, for example, trumpeters Aiden Dumain and Eli Rachlin perform with the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble. In fact, this same Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble was recently chosen as one of 15 school-age groups nationwide to participate in the 27th Essentially Ellington Competition and festival of high school jazz bands. The performance and competition is hosted by Jazz At Lincoln Center and Wynton Marsalis, and will be held in person May 5-7.
Dumain and Rachlin, who are seniors at Cedar Ridge, have been playing trumpet since sixth grade at AL Stanback Middle School, with Rachlin entering a jazz band in seventh grade and Dumain a year later.
Six years later, the band members are about to travel to New York and take to the biggest stage they’ve yet to see.
“I’m very excited,” Dumain said. “Especially since in grade 10 we were supposed to go but Covid kind of canceled it. So, I’m excited to go there this year and to be able to do that.
“I also think the ability to go to New York and not worry too much about Covid is nice because we can all go there and just worry about having fun instead of worrying about social distancing and the masking and all the other things that go with it,” Rachlin said. “It can be a nice experience for anyone trying to appreciate this music.”
During the first two days of the Essential Ellington competition, all 15 bands will have the chance to perform. Performances will be scored by Jazz At Lincoln Center judges, and the top three groups will be selected to give a final performance. The weekend, however, is not all about competing with each other.
“There’s a banquet where they mix people from all groups together so we can get to know each other,” Dumain said. “There is a jam session where they bring together people from different bands. It’s really cool.”
Last November, the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble heard about two of the pieces they would ultimately choose to perform in New York. A third song was added to the ensemble’s playlist in February, after it was learned that it had been chosen for the contest in New York.
“We also have to put other pieces together because we (Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble) are playing a gig there when we get to New York,” Dumain said. “We have a concert at the Bond 45 restaurant. It’s great to have a full concert.
Josh Cvijanovic, who taught jazz, concert and marching band at Cedar Ridge for eight years, said he was not at all surprised by the opportunity his top trumpeters won.
“We’ve had a long working relationship with TYJE,” he said. “A number of our students from our top jazz band have played with the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble and worked with Dr (Gregg) Gelb and Lisa Burn and the whole Triangle Philharmonic Association since before I was here, and the band only got better. They provide tremendous teaching, they bring in lots of clinicians for lots of additional feedback. And then the students represent some of the best in our part of the state. They also take on a lot of individual responsibility, which is great. They get together for the sections and they do a lot of the prep work in advance. When they get to their rehearsal, just tighten the screws and put it all together.
Outside of the jazz band and jazz ensemble, Dumain and Rachlin said they are big fans of jazz and listen to it often, but they both enjoy other styles of music. Rachlin said he likes R&B, while Dumain said he listens to a lot of hip hop.
And jazz is not their only interest. Both eldest recognize the value of athletics and physical activity. Rachlin is on the Cedar Ridge men’s tennis team and also swims. Dumain plays lacrosse for the Red Wolves.
After high school, Dumain plans to study engineering at the University of Texas at Austin or NC State University. He said he hopes to pursue his love of jazz by playing in a jazz combo. Rachlin will study music education and a minor in jazz studies at Michigan State University, which is one of the reasons he can play piano, French horn, trombone, mellophone, in addition to trumpet. .
Before that next big step in their lives happens, Dumain and Rachlin will have another round of performances together in New York, and a chance to play with and against some of the country’s most talented jazz musicians. And a chance to meet Wynton Marsalis, one of the world’s greatest trumpeters and jazz musicians.
The Triangle Philharmonic Association is soliciting donations to help pay for the Triangle Youth Jazz Ensemble’s trip to New York for the Essential Ellington Competition. To make a donation, go to: https://philharmonic-association.org/contribute/
The address to send checks to is on the website, or you can use PayPal to donate by credit card. If donations are made electronically, be sure to note “EE Trip”.