NEWPORT — Anyone needing proof that Mount Desert Island’s young musicians are among the best in the state need look no further than the results of the Maine Music Educators Association’s State Middle School Instrumental Jazz Festival.
Jazz bands from two MDI schools, Conners Emerson in Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Elementary in Northeast Harbor, were awarded first place in their divisions at the festival Saturday at Nokomis Regional High School.
The Pemetic Elementary School band took second, and while not placing, the young Tremont Consolidated School band performed to a high standard.
Festival judges said the 21-piece Conners Emerson jazz band sounded “more like a high school group,” according to its director Shane Ellis. The band took top honors in Division III with performances of “Chili Today, Hot Tamale,” “Willow Weep for Me” and “Big Swing Face.”
Two of the Conners Emerson musicians, drummer Massimo Daul and alto saxophonist Alain Zhang, received outstanding musicianship awards. Only five of these awards are given out in each division.
Judges also presented soloist awards to deserving musicians in each division. For Conners Emerson, soloist awards went to trombonists Brenna Jones and Sadie Sullivan; trumpeters Molly Collins and Winslow Jeffery; saxophonists Gabrielle James, Kylie Higgins and Annabelle Walke; and pianist Edward Choi.
Heather Graves, director of the Mount Desert Elementary School jazz band, praised her group’s performance, which earned them a first place in Division IV.
“They gave it everything they had,” she said. “They were on fire.”
Mount Desert also was the only band in their division to get the highest rating, a I, from judges.
Cadi Howell received an outstanding musicianship award for her trumpet feature on the tune “My Funny Valentine.” The band also performed “Blues in the Night” and a tune made famous by Benny Goodman, “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
Guitarist Alex Burnett, pianist Jialan Deal and trumpeter Leao Nelson received soloist awards.
Graves attributes some of the band’s success to Jesse Cameron, a trumpet player and MDI High School alum. Cameron tirelessly has been volunteering to help during rehearsals, she said.
The Pemetic Elementary School jazz band took second in Division IV with its performances of “Cantaloupe Island,” “Moten Swing” and “Somebody I Used to Know.” Director Ed Michaud said soloist awards went to Axel Eschholz, guitar and piano; Quentin Pileggi, trombone; and Sylvester Mays, trumpet.
Allison Putnam, director of the Tremont Consolidated School band, said she saw “tremendous growth” in her young band during the year. Six of the 11 musicians learned new instruments in order for the school to have a jazz band, she said. The group performed “Blue Trane,” “Here’s That Rainy Day” and “Groove Bug.”