High school musicians in Denver’s Five Points Heritage Band admire their jazz heroes, from Duke Ellington to Miles Davis, but they also hope to make their own jazz history.
“I love music because it allows such a wide range of expression,” said 16-year-old pianist Julian Carey, a student at East High School. “Musicians do magnificent things; they play what happens in the world.”
Carey is part of the 2014 Five Points Heritage Band, a 10-piece ensemble of horns and a rhythm section that will perform at the Five Points Jazz Festival on Sat., May 17. He joined fellow students in the rhythm section—brothers Joey and Steve Pearlman—and teacher Hugh Ragin for a rehearsal at East High School.
The Five Points Heritage Band, Denver’s citywide honor jazz band, is comprised of auditioned players from Denver high schools. The band receives a $3,500 stipend each year from the Denver Arts and Venues Arts & Education Fund and performs on the Youth Stage at the Five Points Jazz Festival. Other bands performing on the Youth Stage are the Denver School of the Arts Jazz Sextet and the Claim Jumpers from the University of Colorado at Denver.
Five Points Jazz Festival celebrates the important role of the Five Points neighborhood in the history of jazz. This year’s free festival will feature 23 bands on seven stages. Favorites on the main stage include the Nelson Rangell Quartet, the Brad Leali Orchestra, The Hot Tomatoes and Conjunto Colores. Fifty food and art vendors will sell their wares. Organizers expect 17,500 people to attend this year.
The Five Points neighborhood, once known as the Harlem of the West, thrived as a jazz scene from the 1920s to the 1950s. It was home to more than 50 bars and clubs, where the great jazz musicians, such as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and others performed.
The Heritage Band will celebrate the greats and also offer something new. “We’ll do swing and be-bop by the likes of Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, along with some of the students’ original compositions,” said bandleader Hugh Ragin, director of instrumental music at South High School for nine years.
Ragin is a well-respected trumpeter and bandleader with an extensive discography produced between 1981 and 2012. He got his bachelor’s degree in music education at the University of Houston and his master’s in trumpet performance at Colorado State University. Ragin said he began playing in 8th grade, when he and the neighborhood guys got some trumpets and started a band.
Joey and Steve Pearlman, both 17 and students at East, got their musical start playing video games.
“We were playing the ‘Rock Band’ video game and we decided we wanted the real thing,” said drummer Steve Pearlman.
“We decided to play jazz because it’s fun,” said Joey Pearlman, an acoustic bass player.
The Pearlmans performed at the Five Points Jazz Festival for the first time last year. “The group is really fun and the songs are great,” said Steve.
Ragin said he likes teaching music to young people and seeing them grow. “I like their creativity and receptivity, their enthusiasm. I like watching their continuum of growth.”
He emphasized the importance of learning the fundamentals of music. “They learn scales, chords, time and articulation. Once they are rooted in the fundamentals, they can go in any direction at any time.”
Ragin said students learn jazz history and traditions so they can take it in their own direction. “They learn the history of jazz so they can play themselves.”
Pianist Carey said the future of jazz depends on future world events. “Jazz started with people singing in the cotton fields, which became the blues and then jazz. Jazz expresses what people feel as history changes. Nobody can guess what will happen in the future but musicians will be there to play the music of their time.”
For the full lineup and other information, visit www.artsandvenuesdenver.com/events-programs/five-points-jazz-festival.