Since 1990, Matt McKagan has been Lindero Canyon Middle School’s band guru, shepherding thousands of students through his program on their way to more advanced musical studies in high school and beyond.
On Feb. 13, McKagan and his current crop of jazz students performed at the school’s multipurpose room in an event that helped raise funds for the students to attend the 57th annual Reno Jazz Festival.
McKagan, an accomplished trombonist, has won several awards for his teaching, including the Mr. Holland’s Opus Award, the National BRAVO Award and the Amgen Award for Teacher Excellence.
His ability to engage with his students has made him one of the more popular, as well as durable, teachers in the area.
The concert featured performances by LCMS’ two jazz bands, each performing four numbers.
The introductory “B” band featured the usual array of trumpets, trombones and saxophones, and it was nice to see other instruments included, such as flute, clarinet and vibraphones.
Their set began with Mike Lewis’ “First Time Around,” a swing chart that works well as an introduction to jazz rhythms and ensemble patterns.
Following this was Roy Phillippe’s “El Gato Gordo” (“the fat cat”), a Latin-tinged number that featured solos by Cash Harrington on trumpet and Dylan Zelman-Katersky on alto sax.
Gordon Goodwin’s “Act Your Age” included ensemble glissandos and tricky syncopation with excellent alto sax solos by Zelman-Katersky and Gavin Russell.
Claudio Rafter was featured on trumpet on the final number, a big band arrangement of Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans jazz classic “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue.”
The more advanced “A” band began with “Bacon Street Blues,” a 12-bar blues in the Count Basie style that featured nice work by pianist Brian McGovern.
McKagan makes sure his soloists get their deserved time in the spotlight, even nudging one of his alto saxophonists closer to center stage while he was performing.
Other solos on this number were Preston Nahapetian on trombone and Paige Hix, Keria Blakeman and Marty Johnson on alto.
Bay Area trombonist Matt Finders’ “Song For My Family” featured impressive work from Drew Harper on flugelhorn in an Afro-Cuban-flavored number that had another nice solo turn from altoist Johnson.
For Duke Ellington’s “Brasilliance,” McKagan featured seventh grade altoist Jack Leiberman. Kudos to the rhythm section in replicating Ellington’s original, propulsive chart. The “A” band’s set concluded with Doug Beach’s “Two Way Street,” which featured an exciting combo of trumpet, trombone and alto.
The Agoura High School Studio Jazz Band concluded the concert. Most of its members received their indoctrination in jazz from McKagan.
The unit was led by Chad Bloom, a CSUN graduate in jazz studies who has worked at AHS since 2004. Their set began with standard big band charts such as Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not,” Basie alumnus Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings” and Johnny Mandel’s popular “The Shadow of Your Smile.”
As a special bonus, the band played Lindero/AHS alumnus Danny Jonokuchi’s “Social Call.” The final two numbers, Sammy Nestico’s “Switch in Time” and Thad Jones’ “Tiptoe” featured challenging unison lines by a quartet of trombones.
One thing that we were pleasantly surprised to see was the number of girls in all of the bands. It wasn’t long ago that most school jazz bands were male-dominated, but there is clearly an equal representation of the genders in LCMS’ and Agoura’s units.
In his introductory comments, Bloom lauded LCMS’ program as one of the finest in the country. Given the excellence of all three of the bands we saw, we don’t doubt Bloom’s appraisal.