Sinclair’s citywide Youth Jazz Ensemble debuts Friday



It has been decades since the Miami Valley had a citywide student jazz group but not due to lack of interest.

Local music educator Bill Burns announced auditions in August for the new Sinclair Youth Jazz Ensemble and quickly found himself with more players than expected. The group has its first concert at Sinclair Community College, Blair Hall Theatre, Building 2, on Friday, Nov. 18. The Sinclair Jazz Ensemble featuring vocalist Elaina McCormick will also perform.

“This very much exceeded my expectations,” Burns said. “When I was first approached by our awesome Music, Theater and Dance (Department) coordinator, Gina Neuerer, she asked if I thought I could put something together. I was like, ‘Well, probably like a combo, like a biggish small group.’ Then, when I heard from people, I said, ‘Hey, we’re going to have a big band, this is going to be great.’”

Building a team

Student musicians were nominated by local music educators. Auditions were held online and in person.

“We’ve got 22 students, which is really good, since the band was formed over the summer,” Burns said. “I wanted membership to be competitive, representing a synthesis of local talent and that’s exactly what I got. This is an All-Star band. Since a typical jazz ensemble is 17 pieces, I ended up doubling a couple of parts. That’s a no-no in the world of jazz but, as an educator, I’m willing to make exceptions to the rule.”

Burns is a baritone saxophonist who leads the Bright Moments Quintet and plays clarinet with the Flying Klezmerians. He teaches music at Sinclair and in Centerville City Schools. He also directs the aforementioned Sinclair Jazz Ensemble.

“The biggest challenge is the scheduling because everyone is very busy,” Burns said. “We’ve had times where some students haven’t been able to make rehearsal, not because of any character flaw, but because they had other conflicts since this is marching band season. On the positive side, when the students are there, they’re ready to work. If I ask them to practice something, they practice and it sounds better.”



Player development

Leena Futoryansky, 17, is one of the young musicians that jumped at the opportunity to explore jazz. The senior at Stivers School for the Arts plays alto saxophone and clarinet.

“I was in our jazz band at Stivers for a year-and-a-half before joining this group,” Futoryansky said. “I’m mostly a classical player but I wanted to work on my jazz skills and develop them. I’ve done some improvising at Stivers but my skills weren’t where I wanted them to be.”

Futoryansky admits working with jazz students from other schools was initially daunting.

“For me, it was a little intimidating because the other saxophone players here are really good,” she said. “Some of the saxophone players at Stivers are newer. Most of them are younger than me but all of them here are very good. It was a bit intimidating, but I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in my improv skills since I’ve joined this group.”

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Off the cuff

Improvisation is a major part of jazz but it’s not a skill taught in marching band, concert band and other school groups, which focus on performing the works as composed.

“For the repertoire, it’s a 60 to 40 percent balance between charts, like music and improvisation,” Burns said. “That depends on what we’re working on, depending on the time, depending on the rehearsal, but there is still very much a focus on improvisation.”

Some students aren’t comfortable performing without written notation but drummer Ethan DeWitt, a 17-year-old senior at Stivers, has been performing in the moment his entire life.

“I started playing in church when I was like 2,” he said. “I feel like it’s a lot easier for me to catch onto things faster without having to learn music. When you grow up in that environment, you don’t ever see music, you just hear it. You just know what it is but you don’t know what it looks like on the page.

“When I came to Stivers, I wanted to know how to read music,” DeWitt added. “Coming to Sinclair was about learning how to play harder music.”



Premiere performance

On Friday, the ensemble will showcase what they’ve been working on since early September with a set featuring songs by Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and others.

“Since this is our maiden voyage, we’re doing some charts that are near and dear to my heart,” Burns said. “I’ve always loved Charles Mingus and we’re doing his ‘Haitian Fight Song.’ We’re doing Duke Ellington’s ‘Second Line’ from ‘The New Orleans Suite.’ That is a quintessential piece of music. Any of Duke Ellington’s music is just near and dear to me.”

Jack Rothstien, a 15-year-old sophomore at Centerville, is looking forward to performing with the ensemble.

“This has been a lot of fun for me,” he said. “I play alto sax for concert band and tenor for jazz band. I started alto in the middle of sixth grade and I picked up tenor last year. I started playing jazz in seventh grade so I’m pretty comfortable with improv. I really enjoy playing jazz. It’s a stress reliever for me. I just enjoy playing music, so I absolutely see myself continuing this through college.”

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Rhythmic diversification

Not all of the members of the Youth Jazz Ensemble plan to study music beyond high school but 18-year Gavin Niles from Kings Mill is already on his way. The multi-instrumentalist, a freshman at Sinclair, plays bass in the student group.

“I’ve been playing bass for two or three years,” he said. “I started out with percussion. I’m a percussion major here and I started watching bass videos online. I was into it because of percussion. It’s a lot more rhythmic so it gets you more attuned to playing supportive roles, different rhythms and playing with people. The bass and drums are the foundation of your band so you get both of those in your playing. I did marching band and drumline for four years, symphonic band for three years and jazz band for four years. I love jazz. I just want to play. I play jazz vibraphone as well. I was going to be a jazz major if I went to a four-year college.”



Musical socialization

Whether the musicians choose to study music beyond high school or simply play for fun as adults, more than anything, Burns is making sure to provide a nurturing experience for the participants.

“It’s an environment where the kids can be themselves,” Burns said. “They can grow, have fun and just build community through other schools, which is what music is all about. Miles Davis always used to call jazz social music and that’s exactly what it is. The kids are establishing new friendships and finding new ways to express themselves and that’s what it’s all about.

“People gave me the opportunity to play music when I was young,” Burns added. “I want to pay it forward and keep it going.”

Area students interested in the Sinclair Youth Jazz Ensemble can get audition information by e-mailing Bill Burns at

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at


Who: Sinclair Youth Jazz Ensemble and the Sinclair Jazz Ensemble featuring vocalist Elaina McCormick

Where: Sinclair Community College, Blair Hall Theatre, Bldg. 2, 444 W. Third St., Dayton

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18

Cost: Free

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