MBHS Jazz Band Attends Jazz Festival for the First Time since Lockdown

By Claire Wilson 

March 13, 2024

On Friday March 8th, the Morro Bay High School Jazz Band attended the Cuesta Jazz Festival, competing in the nocive division. The festival is finally back five years after Covid. In 2020, director of Jazz Studies at Cuesta, and the festival director says he “had to email band directors the night before and tell them it was cancelled.” Last year, the festival was held outdoors and was non-competitive. 

At 8:30, the jazz band loaded their bags and instruments onto the bus and headed to Cuesta College. They were scheduled to perform at 9:40, the first band to compete at the two-day event. The jazz band performed four songs across a variety of genres, including latin, swing, and funk. Because they were the first to perform, the room was empty except for the three judges, director Mr. Belyea’s parents, and their friend. Despite the small crowd, pianist Elsey Ruane said, “I'm excited but I'm also nervous because I keep messing up my solo,” Elsey did not mess up her solo. 

The MBHS Dance Fusion Show took place later that night, and bassist Hero Ruddell would be playing at both events. “I'm pretty excited to perform two times in a day,” he said, “I think it's gonna be a lot of fun, going to this and then back to school immediately for the other thing. It's like, back to back performing.” 

After the performance, judges Dave Tull, Michael Galisatus, and Mike Dana gave feedback and workshopped some pieces with the band. Denzel Ebreo and Hero Ruddell received excellence in music awards for their solos. Dos Pueblos High School, from Goleta, performed next, seriously humbling the MBHS jazz band with its impressive solos. Then, Hanford West performed, confusing audience members with a song that was so calm and melodic, it would have been better suited to a symphonic band concert than a jazz festival, and even put some onlookers to sleep. 

At the lunch break, a student jazz group from Cuesta Jazz Studies performed in the quad area, while a handfuls of festival attendees watched. They were what you’d expect from a jazz band of college students; mustachioed boys with round wire-framed glasses and cable knit sweaters despite heat in the near 70s. Students mulled around the concession stand and vending machines, discussing their performances and solos.

After lunch, the schools filled back into the Performing Arts Center, which smelled faintly of cigarettes and body odor, (especially by the AC) to watch a performance by The Queen’s Cartoonists, a Queens, New York based multimedia jazz group. The group, started by Joel Pierson in 2014, plays music from cartoons, synchronized with cartoons projected behind them. Sometimes they recreate the original music note for note, or, when the original music is unavailable, they write their own. They perform cartoons from all around the world and from many different time periods, in the hopes of keeping their audience excited and never knowing what is coming next. Pierson says, “most people that come to see us play don't really know what to expect. They see it and they still don't know what it is exactly.” The ensemble performed six pieces, with two question and answer sessions with the audience in between. The cartoons ranged from Porky the Pig to award-winning short film, Luminaris. 

The MBHS Jazz Band scored 81.67, placing them in third place out of four schools in the novice division. “That’s way better than I expected,” said senior Maceo Addis-Jackson. Students were most surprised by their relatively high score in the time/rhythm section, which was the biggest struggle in their preparation for the festival.