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The music doesn't stop

An independent junior jazz ensemble that sprouted last year in the shadow of middle school music program cuts in the Medford School District starts its second year this fall.

The Medford Junior Jazz Ensemble will hold auditions for eighth- and ninth-graders at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22, and Thursday, Sept. 23, at Tom's Guitar Warehouse, 1103 N. Riverside Ave. in Medford.

"I think we are going to be better than ever because we learned a lot the first year," said Michael Luciano, a then-Hedrick Middle School father who organized the ensemble.

Although a music teacher was added this year to Medford's middle school music program, the district's Hedrick and McLoughlin middle schools still haven't restored the schools' jazz ensembles.

The middle school jazz ensemble was among the $9 million in Medford district rollbacks for 2009-2010, following a state revenue shortfall.

What followed was a community collaboration that established an independent junior jazz ensemble of about 20 kids in the seventh and eighth grades.

The program began in October 2009 with ensemble members meeting for practice three times a week at Tom's Guitar Warehouse in Medford. It was nearly free to participate. Students had to buy about $20 in sheet music, but scholarships were available.

Dominic Luciano, a music student at Southern Oregon University, volunteered to instruct the ensemble, while his father, Michael, organized the program with the hope that students wouldn't miss out on the preparatory value.

Tom Hess, owner of Tom's Guitar Warehouse, donated space in his store as a venue. The program struck success, winning invitations to joint concerts by Hedrick's and McLoughlin's concert bands.

"I learned a lot about swing beats and how swings and shuffles fit into the music," said North Medford freshman Tanner Eustic, who participated in the junior jazz ensemble last year and is now a part of North Medford's jazz band. "It paved the way to making this a lot easier (in high school)."

This fall, all of the junior jazz ensemble members who auditioned made it onto either the North Medford or South Medford high school jazz band.

"There were two altos on saxophone last year at Hedrick, and I was the only one who made it," said North Medford freshman Bailee Rupert, who participated in the junior jazz ensemble last year.

This year, the Lucianos said they're restricting participation in the ensemble to eighth-graders and ninth-graders in order to incorporate more advanced music. There may be more joint concerts in the works, Michael Luciano said.

"It's going to be more intermediate music theory and jazz theory, proper instrument usage and all the stuff needed to prepare for the high school band," Dominic said.

The ensemble is also looking for donations, including money for travel and sheet music and instruments.

For details, call 541-608-7414.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

Freshman Tanner Eustic, a former member of an independent junior jazz ensemble, practices with the North Medford High School jazz band. Eustic is one of several members of the junior group who were selected to local high school jazz groups. Julia Moore / Mail Tribune photo - Julia Moore