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Petaluma fundraiser lets teen musicians open for pros

From left, saxophonists Kameula Moniz, left, Jeremy Eckoff, Spencer Abbott, Nick Dibley and Graydon Wilson rehearse Friday with the varsity jazz ensemble at Petaluma High School. The group will open for Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers on Saturday as part of a benefit concert at McNear's Theatre.

Christopher Chung / PD
Published: Friday, January 24, 2014 at 6:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 at 6:03 p.m.

Fine-tuning their instruments and loosening their chops, the Petaluma High School jazz ensemble rehearsed the final time Friday for Saturday's big-stage gig with Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers.

Each year, band director Cliff Eveland books a major concert for the teenage jazz band to open for at the Mystic Theatre. The event is a fundraiser for the award-winning music program.

The 8 p.m. show should be jumpin'. Smith and her eight-piece band are standards in the high-energy swing dance world. The sultry Smith, who lives in San Francisco, evokes a sensuous era of glamorous jazz divas, drawing on the influences of legends Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Bessie Smith.

The high school band has a wide-ranging, up-tempo set planned, with a Dizzy Gillespie tune to open, a Latin jazz song and Duke Ellington's “I'm Just a Lucky So and So.”

“Ready, one, two, three, four,” Eveland called out to the two dozen young musicians Friday morning in their last practice session.

The band – with trumpets, trombones, piano, guitars, drums and half a dozen saxophones – ran through most of its 11-song set, kicking it off with Gillespie's jazz standard “Groovin' High.”

“Wait,” Eveland said, wanting to hear another riff again. “Something was a little amok there. Hopefully it won't be amok tomorrow.”

Sophomore drummer Edden Yashar, 16, wasn't too nervous about performing on the same stage as professionals.

“My brother did it when I was a little kid,” he said. “So I kinda know what it's like. It should be very cool.”

He's looking forward to seeing the Skillet Lickers play.

“It's always cool to see different styles of playing,” he said, “whether it's lively or laid back, slow or fast.”

Guitarist Wiley Brouillette, 16, also a sophomore, said it should be fun to perform for a broader audience.

“It's going to be cool to actually open for someone,” he said. “Usually when we play it's in a competition, so it's in front of parents and judges.”

Eveland contacted Smith's booking agent and the band agreed to do the benefit at the Mystic, which rents out the venue at a deep discount for the fundraiser. It is hoped the event will raise $5,000 or more after expenses are covered.

Eveland tries to find bands with a mix of styles so the budding musicians can sample different genres.

“It's been a real treat to have all these bands play,” said Eveland, who's been organizing the fundraising concerts since 2005. “Typically the kids play a little with the headliner, or the headliner plays a little with the kids, or both.”

Doors open at 7 p.m. for the all-ages show. The jazz band plays at 8 p.m., followed by Smith. Tickets are $20 and are available online, the Last Record Store and McNear's Mystic Theatre.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.

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