The renowned Waltrip High School jazz band might just be hitting its highest note yet.
On April 8, Waltrip’s Jazz 1 ensemble was selected as the winner of the Play With Mintzer Contest sponsored by Eastman Winds. After being chosen from more than 30 band submissions from across the United States and Canada, Waltrip will have an opportunity to perform with Grammy Award-winning jazz artist Bob Mintzer at a date to be determined.
“This guy is legendary, and we’re going to get the chance to play with him,” Waltrip band director Jesse Espinosa said Tuesday. “We’re super excited to have that opportunity and floored by having this chance.”
Bands had to make a live video recording session and submit it to Eastman – a particularly challenging task during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school closures. Texas schools are closed until at least May 4 per an executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott.
On March 12 – Waltrip’s last day prior to a Spring Break from which the Rams have yet to return – the 22-member ensemble stayed late at the school to pull it together. At that point, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo had been called off and schools in the region were preparing to announce closures.
“There were some special fine arts academies and schools submitting pieces for this competition,” Espinosa said. “It’s an honor to be rated as the number one band in this particular competition, especially as an inner-city band program here in Houston.”
After submitting the recording, Espinosa admitted all but forgetting about the competition amidst the pandemic. But upon receiving news of the award Monday night, it all came rushing back – along with a sense of pride.
“Considering our current situation (with COVID-19), I was stunned,” he said. “… I’m so proud of these students.”
Waltrip’s Jazz 1 band has placed first and received special awards at various contests and festivals, and also performed with musicians such as Mic Gillette, Jon Faddis, Wayne Bergeron, Shelley Carroll and Andre Heyward. But Espinosa said that it would be difficult for anything to top this moment.
“We’re reaching levels that we never have before. It’s amazing to see what these young people figure out on their instruments,” he said. “Now we get to share our talents and hard work with (Mintzer). If there’s a peak, I don’t know if there’s anything bigger than this right now.”