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High School Jazz Musicians Hit the High Notes

GREENBURGH, NY – On a hot summer Sunday evening, jazz music streams from a second floor studio at the Theodore D. Young Community Center. The sound is polished and professional and it's hard to believe that most of those blowing on the sax, plucking the upright bass and pounding the drums are high school students.

Jazz Elite's band director Iantheia Calhoun thinks that the students have the potential to be unstoppable in their musical careers if they continue with their instruments.

"I'm getting the kids that are really serious," Calhoun said. "This is a group where they can come here and play, but they're taking the art form very seriously."

Forming in 2003, Jazz Elite is a group of approximately 35 high school students countywide who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to play in a jazz band. While most of the county's schools provide music classes, there is no room for a jazz musician to practice their craft with a full band.

Liza Sukra, a Greenburgh resident specializing in the flute and singing, said she doesn't mind spending summer evenings rehearsing. Rather, it makes her happy and is a very memorable moment of her high school career.

"I could go home and sleep," she said. "But what's two hours going to do – kill me? No, it's going to make me happier. Playing with other kids my age who enjoy the same genre of music I do?. I feel like I can learn from them a lot. You rarely find 16- and 17-year-olds who like jazz. I'm honored to be in the group. It's the best of the best."

Many students praised Calhoun for her commitment to the band. Elmsford's Christian Contreras, said she has always been "very supportive" while Greenburgh's Eugene Boakye-Firempong said that "she's more than just a teacher, she's also a friend."

"We started off just learning," said Chris Killiebrew, a drummer from Greenburgh who has been with Jazz Elite since its inception. "And [Calhoun] basically took a bunch of rowdy kids that didn't know anything and turned them into great musicians and great people."

High school and middle school jazz enthusiasts are encouraged to audition for Jazz Elite on Sept. 11. Musicians can contact visit Jazz Elite for more details and Calhoun at mgmt@jazzelite.org or 914-414-8278.

Jazz Elite will be playing a concert behind Theodore D. Young Community Center on Thursday from 7 to 10 p.m.

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