All 17 students of the Kodiak High School (KHS) Jazz Band visited the Sitka Jazz Festival two weeks ago, and all agree that it was a fun time that helped them grow as musicians.

“It was cool, it was swinging,” KHS junior Gene Gill said of the festival. “I think seeing the live performances helped us out maybe most out of anything,” Gill said.

The professional musicians were a hit with the students.

“We got to talk to all the musicians,” senior Sonja Jones said.

At first, one student was wary of the experience, but a particular band piqued his interest.

“I was a little worried at first that it wasn’t going to be as worthwhile as we had expected,” senior Mitchell Davidson said. “Some of the artists weren’t exactly what I was expecting, but then there was a great group called Matt Wilson’s Arts & Crafts, a quartet of piano, bass, drums and trumpet. They were really, really good.”

Ben Kirchenschlager agreed.

“Matt Wilson was extremely creative with things he did — he plays drums for his quartet — I loved it,” the fellow drummer said.

The jazz festival wasn’t all fun and games, though. There were workshops, luncheons and two big performances for the students.

“It was a little bit hectic,” senior Elyse Johnston said. “As a part of the All-Alaska Band, I didn’t have a lot of time for anything.”

Hectic as it may be, jazz band teacher Michael Remy said the experiences with professionals are wonderful.

“They’re right next to them. It’s not like they get to watch them on stage or just get to talk to them informally,” Remy said. “The walls are completely torn down between professionals and beginners.

“What’s amazing is when you talk to these professionals … the walls don’t even exist to them,” Remy added. “Music is music regardless of ability level. They can get like a 5-year-old kid who’s never played trombone who has music within him to have the music come out through the horn.”

The jazz band raised a little over $10,000 to go to Sitka by performing — not by selling things or raffles.

“We didn’t sell cheese and sausage, we didn’t sell wrapping paper — we had gigs,” Remy said. “We opened up cases and said, ‘If you like the music, give us some tips.’”

This Saturday will feature another event to raise money: the Red Hot Valentines Jazz Dance at the Kodiak Harbor Convention Center.

“It’s just a community dance,” Remy said. “We did one last year and it was a huge success.”

The dance will help to raise money for travel to the state music competition in May in Anchorage, for which about $5,000 is needed. Last year at state the jazz band won the command performance in the jazz category.

Mirror writer Louis Garcia can be reached via e-mail at

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