In a reunion event that has all the markings of an inspirational movie, nearly 30 Lewiston High School jazz band alumni from a 44-year timespan are coming together to perform on the same stage Saturday.
Under Williams’ leadership, LHS had a nationally recognized jazz program in the 1970s. Students played in Washington, D.C., at President Richard Nixon’s second inaugural parade in 1973, went on tour in Europe in 1974 with four other high school bands (one of which included a young saxophonist now known as Kenny G) and traveled to national jazz festivals, placing ahead of school bands that had been mentored by Quincy Jones and Ray Charles.
“Those ’70s were the golden age of the jazz program,” said event coordinator Lynn Cook (trombone, ’75, now of Renton, Wash.).
In its first years, the jazz band met two or three times a week during a 6:30 a.m. zero-hour class. Several older jazz musicians from the community — including Brian Hopkins, Kenny Howell and Don Campbell — would join Williams before their day jobs. None were paid for their time, including Williams, who didn’t get the band approved as an official class until a few years later.
Steve Cuddy (trumpet, ’71, now in west Seattle) was part of the newly formed class and remembered how long it took for students to get the hang of the swing feel of jazz. Their mentors played example after example, modeling the jazz rhythms and sounds.
“Those guys were really dedicated,” Cuddy said in an email. Eventually the students were able to play on their own, and once they did, they were good.
“We had a lead trumpet that screamed, a tenor sax that wailed and a rhythm section that cooked,” Cook said. He reminisced about the time when the band was huge, the events were plentiful and the budgets were enormous.
For those who went through the program in its early years as well as those who came through afterwards, the effect of the program didn’t end when they graduated. For some, like T.J. Erikson (saxophone, 2000, now in Eagle, Idaho), it sparked a career.
As a student at McSorley Elementary, Erikson learned from Williams for a couple years — Williams volunteered at the elementary schools after he retired — but the bulk of his musical training was under the instruction of Gary Gemberling. Not only did Gemberling encourage him to consider a career in music education, but he modeled a teaching style and philosophy that Erikson now follows.
Lifelong music involvement is always his goal for the high school students he teaches, but Erikson said his students learn teamwork, communicating, interpersonal skills and responsibility through the program, even if they don’t continue to play.
Cook attests to the translatable value of music education. He isn’t a professional musician and doesn’t teach music, but he has performed live with musicians such as Tom Bowes (Tower of Power), Elliot Easton (the Cars), Nona Hendryx (Talking Heads), and Roger Daltrey (the Who) and continues to play with groups and at blues festivals around the nation. Even at his job as a Boeing engineer, he said he uses the organizational and planning skills he learned in the music program.
The same is true for Jake Heusinkveld (trombone, ’76, now of Boise). He doesn’t play regularly, but from the moment he picked up his trombone, he learned you have to practice in order to sound good. Playing jazz taught him discipline and dedication in addition to teamwork and responsibility.
Each of these former students will perform in Saturday’s concert. With more musicians than places in the band, alumni will rotate through. Cook hopes this will be the first of future similar events for the community and LHS jazz band alumni.
If you go:
What: Lewiston High School Jazz Ensemble & Alumni All-Star Fundraiser sponsored by Edward Jones and Century 21
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: LHS Auditorium in Lewiston
Cost: $5/person suggested donation. Attendees are also invited to bring a non-perishable food donation for the Idaho Foodbank School Pantry at LHS.