It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That…

And we’re off!  The first full band rehearsal for the Los Angeles Youth Jazz Ensemble took place this past week and if the practice was any indicator, this group will shape up to be a formidable force in the LA high school jazz scene.  The past two weeks had been a grueling round of auditions and call-backs with nearly every student demonstrating tremendous musical chops.  From blues, to rhythm changes, to jazz standards, everyone showed musical experience and enthusiasm.  Finally, a band! DSC_0017

Sunday morning, 12pm sharp.  Music in hand, the horns began tuning up and the rhythm section quietly adjusted their rigs.  After a few last minute auditions and formalities, the band launched into an arrangement of the classic standard “How High The Moon”.  Assistant director, Kevin Van Den Elzen got the band moving quickly, stopping only to address minor intonation and rhythm issues.  Despite these shaky moments, the band found its footing quickly, and was able to sight read the entire piece top to bottom.  A pretty impressive feat for a first rehearsal.

Slowing things down a bit with “Lover Man”, lead trombonist Nathan DiLorenzo serenaded the ensemble with a solo feature before the horns swung a great down-home bluesy soli at the end the tune.  Pausing for a moment to catch a breather, everyone had a chance to briefly introduce themselves and talk about their respective schools.  The level of diversity in this ensemble is quite high, with many students traveling from schools outside LAUSD in order to participate in LAYJE.

As artists, we have a unique opportunity to work with people who come from many different walks of life.  The inherent diversity found in the our world is what makes art interesting.  As musicians, we must be open to change and look outside our immediate surroundings for inspiration.  The wide variety of experience and backgrounds in the LAYJE student body will undoubtedly give these young musicians an opportunity to develop their interpersonal skills as well as their musical chops.

A common argument for keeping music alive in schools is that the arts teach students how to collaborate and develop problem solving skills.  Nowhere was that more apparent than in the LAYJE last Sunday.  Everywhere I looked, students were actively engaging each other with the common goal of completing a successful rehearsal.  From practical applications such as when drummer Nick Diego learned how to play with brushes, to conceptual exercises such as when Carlos Ramos coached the trumpets through a difficult passage; each member was tuned in to what was going on in the rehearsal.


Given the proximity to the legendary Thornton School faculty, it’s no wonder why so many local high school students make the choice to join LAYJE every year.  From masterclasses with Bob Mintzer to performances at USC, the LAYJE offers a unique opportunity for future college students to get a taste of music in the academic world.  On December 13th at about 7pm, the LAYJE will perform as part of the “JazzReach” showcase.  From high school jazz combos to JazzReach choirs, this Thornton Outreach Program sponsored event offers students the chance to show off their skills and hard work in front of a live audience at USC’s Newman Hall.
To end practice, I had the band sight read a Matt Harris arrangement of “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” featuring vocalist Maricela Navarro.  Drummer Austin Kim deftly piloted the band through a tricky rhythmic ostinato that alternated between a latin groove and up-tempo swing.  Not to be outdone, Leo Ruiz laid down a fiery tenor solo before Maricela and company vamped out on the classic “Doo Wah, Doo Wah” tag.  Swingin’ indeed. DSC_0015







To get involved with LAYJE, contact USC Thornton Outreach at


Ben Scholz is the director of LAYJE with the USC Thornton Outreach Program and a Master of Music in Jazz Studies student . He writes for his own blog at


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