LAMS And LAHS Jazz Bands Perform At Albuquerque Jazz Festival

Los Alamos High School and Middle School Jazz Bands performed February 17 at the Albuquerque Jazz Festival. Courtesy photo


On Friday, February 17, the Los Alamos Middle School & High School Jazz Bands performed, along with their directors, Ryan Finn, Alexander Mancino & William Finn, at the 2023 Albuquerque/UNM Jazz Festival. Students in all four ensembles played works by Herbie Hancock, Sammy Nestico, Cole Porter, Tito Puente, Thelonious Monk, Victor López and more. 

LAPS Band Director, Ryan Finn says, “In programming music for performances, we are deciding what curriculum we want to bring to the students. Providing appropriate challenges to help students grow technically and musically is only a part of it.” In addition to striving to meet the varied musical needs of the students, the staff centers much of their decisions on what non-musical curriculum they can explore within the jazz band classes. 

“The rich history and tradition of jazz in America is permanently connected to the Black American struggle throughout the 20th century,” Finn says. The origin of jazz is traced to New Orleans in the early 1900s when former slaves were moving to cities for work. This migration combined with the discriminatory Jim Crow laws in the south brought African Americans from both rural and urban areas together, creating a very unique ‘melting pot’ of cultures. 

“When explaining the significance of a composer or the time period in which they wrote, it’s vital that we also teach the reality of the situation”, Jazz Educator Alexander Mancino explains. “The jazz giants that we listen to and emulate musically were not creating art in a vacuum, they were often dealing with extremely adverse and challenging circumstances”. 

The LAPS Jazz Staff firmly believe in teaching the whole of the artform. Finn says, “The music, the theory, the history, the emotion, the meaning – all of it together is what makes jazz so valuable. Without knowing why Les McCann sang ‘Compared to What’ at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969 we don’t understand how to phrase things musically. Music is so much more than notes and rhythms. The feeling, the emotion – that’s what tells the story.”

Part of this event is performing for an expert panel. Three judges provide written and voice recorded comments for the bands and one of the judges also gives a short clinic following the performance, focusing on one aspect of the performance. The experts also provide a numerical rating: LAHS Jazz 1, LAHS Jazz 2 & LAMS Jazz Orchestra all received straight “Superior” ratings, the highest possible scores. The 34-member LAMS Jazz Band received a composite score of “Excellent”, the second highest rating possible. 

In addition to scores for the full ensemble, judges can decide to award “Outstanding Improvisation” awards to students for their solo contributions. Twelve Los Alamos students received these individual awards. Congratulations to Dominic Dowdy, Remy Patterson, Erin Gattis, Ravijit Khalsa, Evan Strohmeyer, Ethan Fox, Maira Finn, Jinwoo Kim, Tony Jaurigue, Carson Stauffer, Griffin McCabe, and Adrian Koo.

February is designated as Black History month and Jazz students performed at the February LAPS Board Meeting in addition to the Jazz Festival. Jazz students are also regularly seen performing around both Los Alamos and Santa Fe in large groups and small combos.