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Local Jazz Band Makes History

Apr 03, 2018 08:30PM ● By Elena Hutslar

Local Jazz Band Makes History

When you’re a jazz performer, hitting the high notes is a must. Walnut Creek’s Northgate High School Jazz Band I, comprised of twenty-five musicians under the direction of Greg Brown, just hit one of their highest notes, making history at the Next Generation Jazz Festival (NGJF) in Monterey on March 10 as the first band in the festival’s 48-year existence to win the High School Big Band Division – or any division – for the fifth straight year. The win garners Northgate a performance on stage at the world-renowned Monterey Jazz Festival in September.


Northgate’s top-achieving set was one of over 150 performances at the competition, which annually attracts top bands from across the country. The High School Big Band Division typically includes several private arts’ schools, making public school Northgate’s dominance over the five-year run even more impressive.


The lead-up to the event included a recording session at Platt Academy studio in Berkeley, where the band recorded its NGJF audition tape and spent long hours of rehearsal inside and outside of class.


“Gate Sixty-Eight,” the closing song of their set, was composed specifically for Northgate by accomplished trombonist Francisco Torres, the musical director for Poncho Sanchez’s Latin Jazz Band and a member of Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. Northgate’s Gate Sixty-Eight performance at NGJF brought hundreds in the audience to their feet in raucous applause.


Anyone interested in seeing this band in action will have two opportunities in April and May to experience what Northgate calls their “party on the stage.”


A spicy evening of Red Hot Latin Jazz, produced by Northgate senior and tenor saxophonist Cameron Wanser, takes place at 8pm on Saturday, April 14, at the Campbell Theater in downtown Martinez. Northgate’s Jazz Band I will be joined by Javier Cabanillas, Grammy award-winning conga player from Pacific Mambo Orchestra. AKA Macho, an eight-piece jazz combo of highly talented young musicians, will open the show. Tickets are $15, available at, (800) 838-3006, or $20 at the door. Proceeds benefit Generations in Jazz Foundation, a local non-profit that supports community music activities for students and adults.


“After all the pressure of competing in Monterey, we’re looking forward to cutting loose for a whole night of Latin jazz,” said Wanser, who originally pitched the idea for the concert to his teacher back in January for his senior project. “The best part about Latin music is it gets all our musicians playing on the stage at once,” he beams. “Everyone’s in the party!”


A Yoshi’s jazz club performance in Oakland will feature Jazz Band I along with Northgate’s talented Jazz Band II during two shows, at 7pm and 9pm, on Monday, May 14. Tickets are $20 and available at






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