Friday, May 16, 2008

Essentially in the Puget Sound Family

In New York City, the Seattle area bands play might pretty:
Just one year apart — Paul is 47; Chris, 46 — they had some sibling rivalry, but were careful not to get in each other's way, playing different instruments (Paul, trumpet; Chris, reeds) and rarely competing in the same sporting events.

"It has never been me versus him," insists Paul Harshman.

Not until this week, that is.

Today in New York, the Harshman brothers go head-to-head at the Essentially Ellington competition. Paul Harshman will be directing the Shorewood High School jazz band, from Shoreline; Chris will lead the South Whidbey High School unit, out of Langley, on Whidbey Island.

Along with three others from the Puget Sound area, their bands are among 15 in the U.S. and Canada to make the Essentially Ellington finals. No region has ever sent five bands to Ellington before.

The Seattle area's success in the Cadillac of jazz competitions is legendary. Since Ellington was opened to schools in the West in 1999, Northwest bands have accounted for nearly a quarter of the finalist slots, and won the competition four times in the last nine years.

...."I hate to sound conceited," says Paul Harshman, "but we've got some really good jazz teachers here who have pushed each other to greater heights. The bar is higher."

Our jazz-education history goes back more than 40 years, in a dizzying genealogy of crisscrossing relationships and influences. Though Seattle's Garfield and Roosevelt High schools usually get the attention, quality jazz education has spread like a brushfire to the suburbs. The Harshman brothers are a prime example — they are the heirs of a jazz-education legacy handed down by four great teachers: Waldo King, Hal Sherman, John Moawad and Dave Barduhn.

Waldo King grew up playing music in Centralia with ex-Count Basie saxophonist Bill Ramsay. In 1960, King started the Garfield jazz program — the first in Seattle schools — and later those at Franklin and Roosevelt, where he taught from 1969 until his retirement in 1983.

....Around the same time, Dave Barduhn, a former student of King's, exerted a huge influence on the Harshman brothers as well. One of the most respected high-school and college jazz-band arrangers in the country, Barduhn encountered the brothers as the director of the Cascades Drum and Bugle Corps, a tradition related to competitive marching bands with drummers and brass instruments exclusively.

....That flame was also passed along by another founding father of area jazz — Hal Sherman. His Kent-Meridian High School jazz band swept regional competitions for years, and he also started the Kent-Meridian Jazz Festival at the old Opera House. The popular fest brought international stars to Seattle Center, and Chris Harshman remembers being attending as a child.

Scott Brown, the band director at Roosevelt, says that festival had a profound impact.

"Hal really showed the possibilities for what could be done, putting [bands] in a professional venue, not just your typical school concert in the gym," says Brown, whose Roosevelt band is another of the five competing at Ellington.

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