Battle Ground High School Jazz Bands Take First and Second Place at West Salem Festival

Sebastien Rubino /

Battle Ground High School’s Advanced Jazz Band won first place and Intermediate Jazz Band won second place at the West Salem Jazz Festival on Feb. 12.

The advanced jazz band competed in the heavyweight division, while the intermediate jazz band competed in the novice division.

Band manager Greg McKelvey said the band only includes two seniors, so he expects many band members to return next year.

“I felt good,” McKelvey said. “I judged a few of the schools we beat at their own festivals in November, and I honestly thought they were better than us (at the time). I think we’ve improved a lot.

McKelvey said there were some “great bands” at the festival. The event is used as the deciding factor in determining which teams can compete in the state music competition in Oregon.

“My children have worked very hard,” he said.

In addition to the West Salem Jazz Festival, the groups also participated in the Essentially Ellington Festival in New York and the Charles Mingus Festival, which was held virtually. Every year, bands have to audition for different competitions, even if they’ve played festivals in the past.

“We don’t cut anyone, so kids who aren’t in the advanced jazz band end up in the middle band,” McKelvey said. “It usually consists of a lot of freshmen and a few sophomores.”

At the West Salem festival, he said the advanced band performed Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” and “Rocks in My Bed,” as well as the showtune “Blue Room.” Although the songs are covers, they are sometimes arranged by McKelvey’s friends who are professional musicians, according to Darcy Schmidt, the school’s choir teacher and head of the music department.

Schmidt said the groups’ accomplishments are exciting.

“It was the first big festival we’ve been able to go back to (in person) in a while since COVID hit,” Schmidt said. “You never know how everyone fared during that time, and we had to deal with a lot of COVID illnesses and performance restrictions, so it was really exciting to be able to perform well and win.”

Schmidt said that in addition to West Salem, the bands also won first place at the Pleasant Hill Invitational Jazz Festival. They have also performed at Skyview Jazz Festival, Clackamas Jazz Festival, Fife Jazz Festival and PDX Jazz Festival.

In 2006, the group won second place at the Essentially Ellington festival, which required a large amount of funds to get there, Schmidt said.

Battle Ground’s advanced and intermediate jazz bands play the style of swing jazz, Schmidt said.

“Swinging is our thing,” she says.

In addition to teaching the jazz bands at Battle Ground High School, McKelvey taught famed bassist Esperanza Spalding while running a youth music program in Portland. McKelvey said Spalding has attended several performances at Battle Ground over the years for fundraisers.

Ada J. Kenney