NORTH KINGSTOWN — The R.I. Music Educators Association’s Senior All-State Jazz Ensemble played a 30-minute set at Updike Park in Wickford on Thursday in preparation for their performance opening for the Newport Jazz Festival held Saturday.
Of 20 Rhode Island students in the band, four attend North Kingstown High School, one was from East Greenwich High School and two attend South Kingstown High School.
North Kingstown students Andrew Wynsen, piano, and Jesse-Ray Leich, drums, scored the top spots for their instruments, while Andrew Nicastro, tenor saxophone, and Paul Spetrini, trumpet, enjoyed playing numerous solos for the crowd. Alto saxophonist Ben Pallant of East Greenwich blended well with his section, and South Kingstown students Fred Crudale, trombone, and Peter Craig, drums, welcomed the spotlight.
Conductor Metro Narcisi of West Warwick floated between the audience and the band, encouraging applause after solos and allowing the band to charm the audience.
“Quite frankly, they’re the best of the best for their age group,” said Narcisi. “For some of these kids, [playing at the Newport Jazz Festival] is the opportunity of their young life time. I think they’ll make Rhode Island proud.”
George Wein, the promoter and creator of the Newport Jazz Festival, requested Rhode Island put together a high school band for the festival and Narcisi snagged the gig.
“Because I’m in the state, I was able to pull it off. It just worked out. The stars were aligned,” said Narcisi.
In preparation, Narcisi said the band practiced at least 20 hours the week of the performance, and have met four or five times since March. However, their rehearsals were in an air-conditioned auditorium.
“I needed to get them out where it’s windy, where music will blow around and there’s a chance for things to go wrong,” said Narcisi.
That’s where NKHS band director Toni Silveira came in. As the manager of the All-State band, she was in charge of making sure everyone had music, supplies and percussion, of setting up the concert, calling the press and feeding the instrumentalists. She and Narcisi also bounced ideas off of each other.
“I said, ‘Toni, I’m thinking we’re going to take them and put them in the parking lot on the asphalt so they can sweat,’” said Narcisi. “And she said, ‘How about we do one even better? Let’s put them in the sun at a concert.”
Silveira expressed her excitement for the Newport performance. “I’m thrilled for them. Wait until they’re on that stage and they look out and see thousands of people – and people on boats, too!”
She was not only thrilled for the students; she was thrilled for the press the performance would give the North Kingstown band program. “At a time of all the budget cuts, this is so exciting for us,” said Silveira.
“Miss Silveira does a fantastic job,” said Paul Spetrini, a recent graduate of NKHS. She’s taught us all a bunch in her senior jazz band program. It’s good to represent NK.”
Jesse-Ray Leich, who will be a senior at NKHS, is the No. 1 jazz drummer in the state. North Kingstown turns out all-state students, and he is no exception. “It feels good to keep the tradition rolling,” he said. “I think the past eight years we’ve had the No. 1 drummer, so it’s good to carry on that tradition.”
The band performed for a much bigger audience on Saturday morning at the Newport Jazz Festival. Natixis, the company that sponsored the festival, also gave out a $5,000 scholarship to vocalist and flutist Elizabeth Marcotte of North Smithfield.
Performing at the Newport Jazz Festival was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of these high school students.
“It’s an amazing honor,” said Narcisi, “for me and the kids.”