The Dos Pueblos High School Jazz Choir is singing a happy tune these days — for good reason. For the first time since 2009, the group landed a coveted slot at the Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival in March. One of only eight high school vocal jazz ensemble finalists to compete and led by vocal music director and DP choir alum Courtney Anderson, the school’s 17-student-strong choir impressed judges in a blind audition. It will be among the 1,300 top student musicians throughout the United States from middle school, high school, and college, raising a joyful noise in the form of big bands, combos, vocal ensembles, soloists, and more.
The Monterey festival comes after a few years of rebuilding. Flashback three years to 2015, and the choir’s future seemed grimly uncertain; administrators feared the program would have to be cut due to a lack of funding and teachers. That’s when legendary former choir director Ike Jenkins called up Anderson, urging her to take the helm. “It’s so exciting to think about how much it’s grown,” she said.
Last year, the choir scored top marks at the Reno Jazz Festival, “coming out of nowhere” to become national contenders for Monterey. For its blind audition, the choir submitted recordings of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” The Idea of North’s “Keep My Supper Warm,” and the traditional “Deck the Halls,” for which they were judged on uniformity of sound and vocal technique.
“I’m so proud,” said student choir director Maggie Knauss. “To start to see us get more merit — I think we deserve that.” Knauss joined the choir as a sophomore and feels bittersweet in her senior year. “It’s done so much for me, and I want to give back to this choir even a fraction of what it’s given to me,” she said. “It gave me a family at high school.”
After Monterey, the DP Jazz Choir will work with New York Voices and return to the Reno Jazz Festival. In the short term, the choir needs funds. “We’re all on our own, and our biggest hurdle is always money and being able to afford to go [to festivals],” Anderson said. The Thomas Fire nixed their solidly booked holiday performance schedule, leaving the choir short of needed cash.
To donate or learn more about the choir, visit dpjazzchoir.org.