by MICHAEL DASHIELL
It’s that so-called Zero Hour — the 60 minutes before school starts — when a pack of Sequim High School students lumber in, strap on their instruments and turn B flats into something simply beautiful.
“They love it. I love it, too,” says Vern Fosket, Sequim High School band director. “It’s a great way to start the day.”
Come Saturday, Oct. 22, Sequim’s Jazz Band instead will be closing out the day when they collaborate with the 18-piece Stardust Big Band.
The annual dinner-and-dance special brings together some of the top local jazz talent with students as young as 14 to play hits from the big band era.
The evening includes an Italian-style dinner, plus a handful of tunes from the high school band, a full set from Stardust and, as they’ve done in past years, a combined piece to cap the evening.
“This is our third year doing it (and) we’re happy to do it,” says Craig Buhler, director of the Stardust Big Band.
Tickets are $15 per person or $25 per couple, with proceeds going to the SHS Band Boosters, who in turn support the Sequim High School band program.
More than 100 students perform throughout the year in Sequim and at other venues, such as the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Idaho, parades throughout the region, local concerts and either in Victoria, British Columbia, or at the Heritage Festival at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. The boosters help band members with transportation costs and event entry fees, equipment costs, uniform repairs and more.
“We’re so fortunate to have the boosters, to do what we do,” Fosket says. “Some kids take it for granted because it’s what we’ve always done, but not all school districts do what we do.”
For local jazz enthusiasts, what SHS bands have done is simply entertain. Buhler, a veteran of the West Coast jazz scene, has worked with Sequim High School jazz students during that “Zero Hour” for several years.
“Vern Fosket has really taken the band to a new plateau,” Buhler says. “They come in there bright and bushy-tailed; they know the drill. They’ve covered some amazing ground and … repertoire. We’ve always tried to help them in any way we could.”
Buhler says he tries to get young musicians to not only be able to play what’s on the page, but also to recognize and play what they hear.
“Some only read music and others only play by ear; I want to meet in the middle,” he says.
For Buhler and other veteran jazz players, events like Saturday’s dinner-and-dance event are much more than just playing a set of tunes.
“It’s amazing when you can connect with them on a musical and a personal level,” Buhler says.
And it’s not only the musicians making connections with the young jazz players. Quite often, Fosket notes, Sequim High youths hit the dance floor with audience members of varying generations.
“I think that’s my favorite part of the night,” Fosket says. “I don’t think you see that kind of interaction (in the community).”
For Buhler, giving back is part of the natural process, as he recalls having key mentors during his growth as a young musician. Born with a visual disability, he struggled in sports, so in seventh grade he “discovered” band. A year behind most of his classmates, Buhler worked with his band instructor each lunch hour until he was ready to join the band.
“That was my team,” Buhler says. “For me, it was the band.”
He then caught on with veteran players who helped fuel his musical maturity, including studying clarinet with Mitchell Lurie and saxophone and flute with Bill Green as a UCLA music major.
“When I was a kid, there were still people around who did the USO tours,” he says. “You bet we had mentors.”
Now, he and fellow Stardust members are giving back to their young counterparts.
Fosket, for one, is quite appreciative.
“It’s so valuable to see where you can end up (as a musician),” Fosket says. “Some kids say, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ ”
Several recent Sequim High musicians have gone on to play with reputable collegiate bands as well as local bands such as the Sequim City Band.
“There’s a big push in Sequim to involve the young people,” Buhler says. “I’m amazed not only by their ability to play, but by their maturity. We go clip, clip, clip. We (Stardust players) only go two hours a week and cover a lot of ground. They (the high school musicians) are ready.”
Saturday night figures to have the big band era on prominent display.
“These kids haven’t seen this material before — we’re doing stuff that was popular before they were born,” Buhler says.
Stardust also is featured at 7 Cedars Casino in several upcoming dates: Oct. 30, Nov. 27 and Dec. 18, each performance from 5:30-9 p.m.
The Sequim High School band performs its Winter Concert on Dec. 15.