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El Paso ISD students finding identity through jazz music

(EL PASO INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT – Feb. 16, 2024) — Young jazz musicians in El Paso are showing off their talents this week during the two-day El Paso ISD Jazz Festival. 

High school students from El Paso ISD and other local school districts took the stage on Thursday, Feb. 15, at Coronado High School to take part in the annual contest. The long-standing tradition gives these young artists a venue to express themselves through their love of music. 

“I believe self-expression with this contest is unique,” said Mark Saenz, facilitator of instrumental music at El Paso ISD Fine Arts. “The event gives students a whole other avenue where they can find their identity through music.” 

The contest consists of groups preparing three contrasting pieces in the style of jazz. This can include a ballad, modern, Latin music style and more. The students are then rated by judges who are no strangers to the jazz scene. 

“All four of the judges are musicians that are playing in big bands throughout the area,” Saenz said. “For our kids to be in a workshop with these judges is incredible. It’s also inspiring for them because the students get to perform in front of people they hope to become someday.” 

The jazz bands who performed well in front of the judges earned the title of “First Division” and walked away with a trophy. 

“This competition is a ratings system and the best ratings that you can get are ones, which are superior,” said James Smith, director of bands at Coronado High School. “The kids are really proud and happy when they get the superior rating.” 

The El Paso ISD Jazz Festival is the lead-up to the other big jazz events happening later in the spring.  

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