Eagle Point Jazz Band ready to swing at church

In fifth grade I lugged my alto saxophone rental back and forth to band practice twice a week.

I guess the route covered about a mile (uphill) each way. My labor of love had more to do with impressing my older brother, Alan, than feeling the call. I knew he enjoyed a good saxophone number and thought if I learned to play well enough, I would earn his attention and respect. But Alan turned 20 about that time, and had eyes only for Danae, his future wife.

I did manage to stick it out for the full school year, and I think I may have stopped Alan in the hallway long enough to squeak out some simple tune, but then my days of changing reeds and sheet music ended. I’ve never regretted the experience.

Had I continued I might have ended up playing for the Cortez High School jazz band, since the improvisational flights of Steely Dan, Hugh Masekela (who left us in January), George Benson and many others never failed to snag my heart.

Today at 5 p.m., at the monthly Jazz Vespers program at First Presbyterian Church in Medford, the Eagle Point High School Jazz Band will perform. These are young people undeterred by the sometimes discordant and rocky road toward excellence. Maybe it’s because their director is Jeremy Durst, professional saxophonist, who plays with the Southern Oregon Jazz Orchestra among other groups.

Jeremy graduated from South Medford High School and went on to study music education at Western Kentucky University, where he was the featured soloist and leading tenor saxophone player in the WKU Jazz Ensemble until graduating in 2009. He returned home to the valley and began teaching band in the Eagle Point School District. Last summer’s Britt Festival afforded him the opportunity to swing with the likes of The Four Tops and The Temptations.

Today we have the chance to support his several protégés performing in the EPHS Jazz Band. This is a 19-piece big band loaded with horns, energy and imagination. They have played in the Reno and Medford jazz festivals, and placed fourth in their division at the West Salem Jazz Festival. Several of their musicians play in the Rogue Community College Jazz Band.

Judging by the smiles in the photo I saw of them, they love what they do. And one gal apparently manages a bass saxophone nearly as long as she is.

With April being Jazz Appreciation Month, it’s gratifying to see a healthy admiration for classic jazz blooming within the younger generation. And thank you to Robin Blomquist and Pastor Murray Richmond for making venues like this available to showcase their talents for the public. Jazz Vespers is always free, but a donation is welcome to keep the program thriving.

Following the jazz concert, be sure to catch the exhibit of lovely pastels by local artist Marilyn Hurst.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer living in Eagle Point. You may reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.

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