Starbucks Hot Java Cool Jazz Shines a Light on Talented Teens

Jacob Zimmerman’s connection with Hot Java Cool Jazz reaches back to before he instructed freshmen musicians at Seattle’s Garfield High School who’ll be playing at this year’s concert. It even extends to a time before he played the show in 2003 and 2004 as a member of the Garfield ensemble.

Back in 1999, Zimmerman was an upstart alto saxophonist from the 'burbs looking for a suitable high school jazz program to join when his family moved into Seattle. The Hot Java Cool Jazz show that year was at Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony, and Zimmerman attended as a particularly engaged onlooker.

“It was kind of a formative experience,” he recalled. “We saw Garfield, Roosevelt and Franklin [schools] play. Having that opportunity to see all the bands play right next to each other was thrilling. I was kind of cocky at the time. I thought, yeah, I can play with that band. I decided to go to Garfield.”

A renowned jazz hotbed

Who knows how many burgeoning musicians have experienced similar pivotal moments? Starbucks Hot Java Cool Jazz will mark its 20th anniversary of celebrating local talent at 7 p.m., Friday, March 20 at Seattle’s Paramount Theater. This year’s participating area high schools – Edmonds-Woodway, Garfield, Mount Si, Mountlake Terrace and Roosevelt – maintain a tradition that has established the Northwest as a renowned hotbed for nascent jazz musicians.

After graduation, Zimmerman joined a pipeline of Seattleites that flowed into Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music. He later earned his master’s degree in composition at Oakland’s Mills College, and has encountered “what’s-in-the-water” inquiries from coast to coast.

Zimmerman cites excellent Seattle-area middle-school programs, singling out a mentor, Robert Knatt, for his work at Washington Middle School and, more recently, with Seattle JazzEd. And then there are the funds that come from community celebrations like Starbucks Hot Java Cool Jazz.

A forum as well as funds

One-hundred percent of ticket sales for the event go to the participating school bands. According to Erin Combs of Starbucks Community Marketing Partnerships, $54,000 was generated last year, bringing the total raised over the history of Starbucks Hot Java Cool Jazz to something in excess of $400,000.

“This is more than just writing a check,” Combs said. “It’s to give young musicians a stage to play on -- a platform and a richer experience.”

Still, Zimmerman observed, that money comes in mighty handy. “I’m probably a case in point,” he contended. “I received a lot of financial aid to do all the things that we did. It was really expensive, because we took multiple trips to New York City. We did a European tour that was two weeks long. That was something that was beyond what my parents could afford.”

In May, three of the schools – Garfield, Roosevelt and Mount Si -- will be finalists at the Essentially Ellington competition at Lincoln Center in New York City. That’s an honor given to only 15 bands from across North America.

Coming full circle

As for Zimmerman, he’s come full circle. In addition to overseeing the third jazz band at Garfield, where the esteemed Clarence Acox, Jr. directs the first and seconds bands and has led the program for decades, he plays clubs and is plugged into a local scene that’s gaining force. He remembers the blur of playing Starbucks Hot Java Cool Jazz as a student, and he senses that, contrary to what some might expect, the participants this year won’t be dealing with much in the way of nervousness or stage fright. He certainly didn’t when he was a student at Garfield.

“I think playing in that band may have been the most confident I ever felt,” Zimmerman said, "because, compared to other high school bands, we knew how exceptional the music was.”

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11 fun facts (and 1 surprise!) about Starbucks new collectible merch