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Petaluma fundraiser lets teen musicians open for pros

  • From left, saxophonists Kameula Moniz, left, Jeremy Eckoff, Spencer Abbott, Nick Dibley and Graydon Wilson rehearse Friday with the varsity jazz ensemble at Petaluma High School. The group will open for Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers on Saturday as part of a benefit concert at McNear's Theatre. (Christopher Chung / PD)

Fine-tuning their instruments and loosening their chops, the Petaluma High School jazz ensemble rehearsed the final time Friday for Saturday's big-stage gig with Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers.

Each year, band director Cliff Eveland books a major concert for the teenage jazz band to open for at the Mystic Theatre. The event is a fundraiser for the award-winning music program.

The 8 p.m. show should be jumpin’. Smith and her eight-piece band are standards in the high-energy swing dance world. The sultry Smith, who lives in San Francisco, evokes a sensuous era of glamorous jazz divas, drawing on the influences of legends Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Bessie Smith.

The high school band has a wide-ranging, up-tempo set planned, with a Dizzy Gillespie tune to open, a Latin jazz song and Duke Ellington’s “I’m Just a Lucky So and So.”

“Ready, one, two, three, four,” Eveland called out to the two dozen young musicians Friday morning in their last practice session.

The band – with trumpets, trombones, piano, guitars, drums and half a dozen saxophones – ran through most of its 11-song set, kicking it off with Gillespie’s jazz standard “Groovin’ High.”

“Wait,” Eveland said, wanting to hear another riff again. “Something was a little amok there. Hopefully it won’t be amok tomorrow.”

Sophomore drummer Edden Yashar, 16, wasn’t too nervous about performing on the same stage as professionals.

“My brother did it when I was a little kid,” he said. “So I kinda know what it’s like. It should be very cool.”

He’s looking forward to seeing the Skillet Lickers play.

“It’s always cool to see different styles of playing,” he said, “whether it’s lively or laid back, slow or fast.”

Guitarist Wiley Brouillette, 16, also a sophomore, said it should be fun to perform for a broader audience.

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