Marching Band Strikes up Two Jazz Bands for 2019


Junhee Ryu

Within the front row of saxophones, alto saxophonists and sophomores Matthew Varughese and Kevin Du and baritone saxophonist freshman Garrett Lee play soulful blues during rehearsal in time with the rhythm and brass sections.

Nicholas Hung and William Hsieh

As marching band season ends after first quarter, this year Pride of Portola marching band students will transition into not one but two jazz ensembles for the 2018-19 school year. While both rehearse during first period, Jazz 2 is designed for students to improve basic techniques and skills before moving on to Jazz 1 for advanced musicians.

Jazz 1 has already begun preparing for performances with complex pieces such as “Hey Pachuco” by Alexander Achor, David Dorame and Edwin Nichols and “All Blues” by Miles Davis. Instrumental director Kyle Traska teaches Jazz 1 while instrumental director Desmond Stevens teaches Jazz 2.

“It’s important because because we’re growing as a school, and it gives students more opportunities to experience the art and the style,” Stevens said. “It also helps our top group get better because students will be able to start as freshmen, and then when they get to Jazz 1 later they’ll be more experienced.”

A typical jazz band consists of a rhythm, saxophone and brass section. Jazz as a music genre involves a lot of improvisation and immersive rhythm. These unique aspects make jazz band different from classical ensemble, where students follow a conductor.  

“I was very interested in learning a new style of music, and I thought this was a good opportunity for me to expand my musical expertise,” guitarist and freshman Sai Anish Kuppili said. “When I was in marching band, I was interested in jazz, and now is a great opportunity to explore my passion.”

Jazz 1 may have its first lunchtime performance on Dec. 19, which would set the bar for the rest of the year. In addition to school concerts, Jazz 1 will also represent Portola High with performances at jazz festivals and a visit to the Reno jazz convention in April.

Traska said he strongly believes jazz is well deserving of a prominent spot in Portola’s music program.

“Jazz is the quintessential American art form,” Traska said. “It’s the roots of rock, funk, hip hop and, to a certain extent, electronic music. It’s where music in America really started to create the American identity.”