Early on a Sunday morning, a group of twenty-one bright- eyed high schoolers move chairs into organized rows and set up their instruments. The brass players begin warming up with high and loud tones while the saxophones practice a flurry of notes underneath them. The commotion suddenly halts and for a moment there is silence as the students listen for a reference pitch from the piano. The players tune their instruments and The Los Angeles Youth Jazz Ensemble begins their rehearsal.
The Los Angeles Youth Jazz Ensemble (LAYJE) is a jazz big band comprised of talented high school students from local schools in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Directed by USC master’s students Ben Scholz and Matt Corrigan, the group is a part of USC’s Thornton Community Engagement Program.
Ariel Lopez, a sophomore drummer for LAYJE, said, “It’s really fun because everyone is from different parts. I’m from the west side, [some] are from the valley, and others are from near USC. I’m getting to know people from all over LA.” Baritone saxophonist and freshman Daara Besharati, said, “I think it’s definitely a really good opportunity for us to grow as musicians. It exposes some of us to a different type of music than we [play] at school.”
LAYJE rehearses every Sunday for two and a half hours and performs throughout the community during the school year. In addition to learning about traditional jazz, the band has also begun exploring Latin jazz. Aaron Serfaty, a faculty member and Latin Ensemble director from USC, came into rehearsal to give a masterclass to the band. Referring to Serfaty’s clinic, high school student and drummer, Judah Buycks, remarked, “I’ve never had any experience with a great percussionist like him. It was fun and helpful. I didn’t know about a lot of those [Latin percussion] instruments until last week.”
In addition to being exposed to new kinds of jazz, the students are also learning how to approach new musical roles in the ensemble. For example, sophomore Evan Saracay is the lead trumpet player for LAYJE. In regards to the new experience of playing lead for the band, Evan said, “It’s different for me! It gets me out of my comfort zone. But, it’s better because I’m doing stuff that I usually would never do back at my high school.”
LAYJE is able to provide these young musicians some rare opportunities: masterclasses, new leadership roles, and a chance to meet other kids from the Los Angeles area. The band will be performing at USC’s JazzReach concert in Newman Recital Hall on Sunday, April 2, 2017.
For more information about future performances and auditions for LAYJE, contact email@example.com.