“I never want to give it up,” Daniel said. “I want to be one of those people who can say I went for my dream. Dan is the best director I could ever imagine because he teaches so much and helps the band progress. The experience I have had at Coral Gables Congregational these past four years is simply amazing.’’
Along with the music the All-Stars have been perfecting — the 15 finalists’ Essentially Ellington repertoire includes Billy Strayhorn’s Blood Count, Clarence and Spencer Williams’ Royal Garden Blues, and Duke Ellington’s Bonga, Echoes of Harlem, Lightnin’ and Second Line — the conductor has drilled into his students that they should be among the first to congratulate the other teams when they hear them on the Lincoln Center stage.
“We will meet players from 14 other schools and I purposely said, ‘When we’re there, introduce yourself to everybody, have lunch with somebody you don’t know.’ We’re not the enemies here,” Strange said. “Maybe some groups don’t want to talk to us but we are there to share and show everybody what we do with our program. Would I love to win? Absolutely. But no matter what happens, we’ll come away from this with unbelievable memories and experience.”
Trumpet player Christian Garibello, 17, a Dade Christian School junior, agrees.
“It’s a big thing not only for me but for the rest of the people in the band,” he said. “It’s kind of like a sign of how much practice and hard work we’ve all put into our instruments. It was a big thing already getting into the band — but getting into Essentially Ellington is even bigger.’’
Musicians in the All-Star Jazz Ensemble must audition for their positions. And, unlike ensembles who are part of a school’s curriculum and who can practice daily, CAP meets only for three hours on Saturday mornings at Coral Gables Congregational. The All-Stars do, however, perform at outreach concerts, such as December’s Christmas concert at The Historic St. Agnes’ Episcopal Church in Overtown, on WDNA 88.9 FM radio and at the Coral Gables Museum.
Can they win?
“You never know what to expect,” Hart said. “We’re up against the top jazz bands in the U.S. and also up against bands in a curriculum who rehearse every day and we rehearse once a week. That was a big feather in our cap to know we still made it to the finals with the limited rehearsal time we had. This is a great opportunity for our kids to get to New York where they will be working with the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra and spend some time with Wynton Marsalis. One of the best ways to learn is by listening.”
Mark Hart, the executive and artistic director of the CAP group, says the trip for four days in the Big Apple will cost $28,000. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation provided a matching grant of $10,000 and private donations and fundraising will make up the difference.
“It’s a once-in-a lifetime experience,” said Fernando Ferrarone, 17, a junior at Felix Varela Senior High in the Hammocks, who was chosen earlier this year to be a part of the Grammy Band in Los Angeles. There, he played trumpet and sax with Juanes and Chick Corea.