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Mondavi-SFJAZZ Project Teaches Young Players About Life as a Professional Musician

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, March 29, 2012

So just how excited are these teenage musicians about opening up for the SFJazz Collective?

Joey Cozza: "We're definitely excited about it, we can't wait to get up there and just play our best."  Emery Mesic: "Playing with those amazing musicians will be like a once in a lifetime experience." "Conley: Last word? Jeric Rocamora: Yeah…." (laughter)

Joey Cozza, Emery Mesic and Jeric Rocamora are members of the Mondavi Center-SFJAZZ High School All-Stars, a group that 6 months ago didn't exist.  After open auditions, the 8-member band was assembled in November as part of an educational outreach project sponsored by the Mondavi Center and modeled after a similar SFJazz program.
MCMULLEN: "You could call it prep for the big time"
Jazz musician and educator Mike McMullen was charged with coaching these top players from various high schools. He says one of the goals of the project was to give them a taste of what it takes to be a professional musician -- the hard work and dedication necessary - all leading up to their performance tonight, opening for professional jazz group.
MCMULLEN:  "They're prepared. They're nervous in the sense of wow, there's gonna be a thousand people out there. But they're not nervous about the difficulty of the music because they have rehearsed and they have gelled, I mean they're pretty comfortable playing it." 

Part of that comfort is the result of warm up shows like this one performed by the teenagers a few weeks ago at JB's Lounge. But pianist Joey Cozza says getting comfortable with this music is not easy.

COZZA: "We're playing the arrangements that the SF Jazz Collective uses themselves so it's a lot more complicated than your average high school band."

Learning to play in the unusual time signatures favored by the Collective was part of the takeaway for sax player Emery Mesic.
MESIC: "Dealing with different rhythms, going in between them, in and out of them… there's this one bar of 15/16 in one of the songs and like at first I had no idea how to count that at all.  (Conley) How do you count it? You don't count it, you just feel it."
Perhaps trumpeter Jeric Rocamora sums it up best.

ROCAMORA:  "It's definitely great to listen to and it's even more fun to play."

But being a professional musician is about more than just playing.  And McMullen says that was an important part of this mentoring project.

MCMULLEN: "Who's gonna speak for the band?  Who's gonna fulfill the function of the music director and count the tune off?  Who's gonna make sure that everybody's music is up and ready?  I don't think they ever thought that there were business elements inside any kind of band.  And it just makes them much more aware of the professional level."

As much mentoring as McMullen provided, there's no substitute for a young jazz musician performing shoulder to shoulder with a jazz master.  And that, he says with a twinkle in his eye, will happen tonight.
MCMULLEN: "We didn't tell them this until about two weeks ago but four of the members of the SFJazz Collective are gonna sit in at the end of the set.  And the kids when I told them this nearly lept out of their skins."
MESIC: "And we're gonna jam together.  It'll be really something else because like they're insane and we're just students (laughs)!"
Students who, according to Mike McMullen, are very likely to become professional musicians.
Click for more information on the SFJAZZ Collective's March 29th concert, featuring an opening set by the Mondavi Center-SFJAZZ High School All-Stars
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