Starbucks Hot Java Cool Jazz is a testament to the value of the arts

The benefit concert, now in its 27th year, has raised more than $1 million for high-school jazz programs in Washington state.

Long before Darin Faul was a high school jazz teacher at Mountlake Terrace High School, north of Seattle, he was a high school student who had the opportunity to visit Europe with a touring concert band.  

At a music hall in Florence, Italy, he played the trumpet on an arrangement of “Amazing Grace.” He remembers getting back to the bus, awestruck by the experience, and telling one of his friends, “I want to be a musician. I want to stay engaged with this.”  

For Faul, that trip is a foundational memory, a moment that confirmed to him the value of the arts. It’s something he hopes his students – and the audience – also get to fully experience when they take part in the 27th Annual Starbucks Hot Java Cool Jazz at The Paramount Theatre in Seattle on March 29.  

“The arts express things, that if we could express them with words, we would,” says Faul, who’s taught at Mountlake Terrace High School for 26 years. “But we can’t, and so we sing about it, or play about it, or draw about it, or sculpt about it.  

“When I experience a great piece of art, I become tremendously reflective. I feel no need to talk. I feel knocked over by it. I feel changed because of it.” 

Hot Java Cool Jazz is a benefit concert featuring five of the top high-school jazz programs in the state performing in a non-competitive format. This year’s lineup, selected by a panel which included local music professionals, also includes student bands representing Edmonds-Woodway, Garfield, Mount Si and Roosevelt high schools. 

One hundred percent of proceeds from ticket sales go back to participating schools. Since its inception in 1995, Hot Java Cool Jazz has raised more than $1 million for local high school jazz programs.  

This year’s benefit concert comes at a time when school districts across the country are struggling to fund the arts, as administrators deal with budget shortfalls and declining enrollment in public schools. The result? Music classes are being cut, feeder programs are threatened and students who might have found a home in music have fewer options. 

“There’s a lot of language in education around social and emotional learning and the value and importance of belonging,” says Hannah Mowry, who directs jazz at Roosevelt. “It’s hard to be a kid. It’s hard to be a teenager. You’re so vulnerable when you’re a kid. There has to be an outlet for some of those experiences and those hard feelings.  

“If we’re trying to create places in schools for kids to belong and to give kids tools to be in touch with their social, emotional selves, you must put value in the arts.” 

Consider the testimonies of some of those who’ll participate at this year’s Hot Java Cool Jazz, who can attest to the value of the arts in their lives.  

“There’s something special about walking into the band room and feeling an inherent connection with the people around you: it’s a lovely home, a lovely community,” says Henry, a senior at Roosevelt High School who plays the alto saxophone. “To have this haven is really important. There are so many people who have found their space through jazz and music.”

“Music class is so important to kids,” says Bolan, a junior at Garfield High School who plays the drums. “It’s just as important as algebra or physics, because it means a lot especially to those kids who don’t like physics, who don’t excel at school. It’s a way for them to feel included in school. Spend a couple days in the band room and see what it means to those kids.”

“Music has given me so many tools that I’m going to use in all different areas in my life – learning how to work with people, learning my own strengths and weaknesses, learning how my brain works,” says Olivia, a junior at Edmonds-Woodway High School who plays the alto saxophone. “The amount of work I put in is what I’m going to get back from it. Instead of just seeing a grade on a page, it’s the way I feel, it’s the way I’m developing as a human.”

“There’s no better avenue than music to teach students and people about what it means to be human, and about some of the things that are most important in life – teamwork, dedication and collaboration,” says Bill Leather, who teaches music at Mount Si High School. “Regardless of where you come from or what your background is, or what you believe in, music is a language that transcends that.”

For Faul, at Mountlake Terrace, the value of music is personal. Not only has he guided students in his community for over two decades, he’s teaching his own children. One son played at Hot Java Cool Jazz several years ago; his daughter will play this year. Some families do sports together. Faul has a family band.  

“Support artists,” Faul says. “Take your kids to see art and talk about it. If you have a 5th-grade student who’s learning the trombone, rent two. Why not? It’s never too old to do this. You’ll stay engaged in an activity with your kid, forever.”  

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‘By us and for us:’ New Starbucks merch inspired by LGBTQ+ community