Battle Ground High School’s jazz bands win first, second place at West Salem festival

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Battle Ground High School’s Advanced Jazz Band won first place and the Intermediate Jazz Band took home the second place honor at the West Salem Jazz Festival on Feb. 12.

The advanced jazz band competed in the heavyweight division, while the intermediate jazz band took part in the novice division. 

The bands’ director Greg McKelvey said the group only included two seniors, so he expects many of the band members to return again next year. 

“I felt good,” said McKelvey. “I judged a couple of the schools that we beat at their own festivals in November, and I frankly thought they were better than us (at the time). I think we’ve improved a lot.”

McKelvey said there were some “great bands” at the festival. The event is used as a deciding factor for which teams get to go to the state band competition in Oregon. 

“My kids have worked really hard,” he said.

Besides the West Salem Jazz Festival, the bands also competed in the Essentially Ellington Festival in New York City, and the Charles Mingus Festival, which was held virtually. Every year, the bands have to audition for the various competitions, even if they performed at the festivals in the past.  

“We don’t cut anybody, so the kids that don’t make the advanced jazz band end up in the intermediate one,” McKelvey said. “That usually consists of a lot of freshmen and some sophomores.”

At the West Salem festival, he said the advanced band played “Prelude to a Kiss” and “Rocks in My Bed” by Duke Ellington, as well as the showtune “Blue Room.” Although the songs are covers, they are sometimes arranged by friends of McKelvey who are professional musicians, according to Darcy Schmidt, the school’s choir teacher and head of the music department.

Schmidt said the bands’ achievements are exciting.  

“It was the first big festival we’ve been able to get back to (in-person) in a while since COVID struck,” said Schmidt. “You never know how everybody else has been doing during it, and we’ve had to deal with a lot of COVID illnesses and restrictions from performing, so it was really exciting to be able to perform well and win.”

Schmidt said besides West Salem, the bands also won first place at Pleasant Hill Invitational Jazz Festival. They also placed at the Skyview Jazz Festival, Clackamas Jazz Festival, Fife Jazz Festival and the PDX Jazz Festival.  

In 2006, the band won second place at the Essentially Ellington Festival, which required a great amount of fundraising so they could travel there, Schmidt said. 

Battle Ground’s advanced and intermediate jazz bands play the style of swing jazz, Schmidt said. 

“Swing is our thing,” she said.

Besides teaching Battle Ground High School’s jazz bands, McKelvey taught Esperanza Spalding, the famous bassist, while directing a youth music program in Portland. McKelvey said Spalding has attended several performances in Battle Ground over the years for fundraisers.



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