Photos/videos by Connor Surdi and Joshua Trujillo
Ali Jaffery appreciates how easy technology has made it to find and listen to music. Almost anything in the world, a few clicks away. It’s just that, sometimes, something’s missing.
“Live music just has this special spark to it,” says Jaffery, a senior at Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie, Washington, who plays saxophone with the school’s award-winning jazz program. “It’s different than a record or a DVD or a digital download.
“When I’m playing with my friends and my peers, it’s magical.”
To that end, the 26th annual Starbucks Hot Java Cool Jazz at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle on March 31 is more than a benefit concert featuring five of the best high-school jazz programs in the state, which this year includes Bellevue, Bothell, Roosevelt, Garfield and Mount Si.
It’s a celebration of the power of live music.
“Online, you could be listening to a recording that might have taken 500 takes,” says Nicholas Chang, a senior at Roosevelt High School who plays the trumpet. “But when you’re there, you’re playing the actual notes, you’re hearing the actual humanness of playing. And that’s what music is, it’s just human experience.”
“But when you’re there, you’re playing the actual notes, you’re hearing the actual humanness of playing."
Since its inception in 1995, Starbucks Hot Java Cool Jazz has raised more than $1 million for local high school jazz programs, bringing together high-school musicians in a non-competitive format at a premier venue. One hundred percent of the event ticket sales go back to participating schools.
This year also features the first female to direct a band at Hot Java Cool Jazz, Hannah Mowry at Roosevelt.
“Something that has changed for me and my purpose over time is trying to empower my students and other young women to continue to play the music, almost in an act of defiance, like ‘this space is for me,’ ”Mowry says.
Leading up to the event, students and directors riffed on the power of live music – how it helps them unplug from digital mediums; connect deeply with others in unexpected ways; articulate feelings and ideas; and improvise, take risks and even make mistakes.
“I think there’s almost something addicting about it,” says Neptune Rasnic Olson, a senior at Garfield High School who plays the saxophone. “You’re connecting with other people that you’re onstage with, and you’re connecting with the audience in a way that is not the same over a camera.”
“I think there’s almost something addicting about it,”
“We can listen to all the music we want over our 8 billion streaming services,” says Evie Cornwell, a junior at Bothell High School who plays the trumpet. “But live music isn’t just listening to music, it’s an experience.”
“Music is so personal for me,” says Dennis McIntyre, a senior at Bellevue High School who plays the upright bass. “Music has made me cry, it’s made me feel happy, it’s made me feel disgusted, it’s made me feel envious, it’s made me feel everything. It’s made me feel so human.”
“When you’re listening to live music or playing live music, everything is in the moment, and you can feel the emotion and hear the little hiccups,” says Brienna Grady, a senior at Mount Si High School who plays the trumpet. “All you’re thinking about is what’s right in front of you.”
“All you’re thinking about is what’s right in front of you.”
Band director Philip Dean took Bothell High School to Hot Java Cool Jazz once before, in 2014. The concert remains one of the highlights of his professional career – the big audience, the pumped-up kids, all the hard work leading up to the performance. He hopes his students can soak up every moment of this year’s experience, and appreciate the power of live music.
“It's the emotional connection with the performer and the audience that really sells the whole thing,” Dean says. “You can't get that on an MP3. The emotional quality doesn't transfer very well. That has to be done live.
“That’s why music festivals are still around. That’s why some of the biggest things we do as humans are music festivals. With live music, it’s what I live for.”