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Since 2005, KNKX's School of Jazz has provided mentorship, learning and performance opportunities to Western Washington middle school, high school and college jazz students. A cornerstone of the station's signature community outreach program, it has directly impacted thousands of jazz students, band directors and professional musicians. School of Jazz is sponsored by Alaska Airlines and BECU.

CWU jazz all-stars return to the KNKX studios

Central Washington University Jazz Band in the KNKX Seattle studios.

For a third time, KNKX hosted an all-star jazz ensemble from Central Washington University for a studio session performance. The fresh faces of this combo did have some familiarity, with two former School of Jazz high schoolers in the group as well as our friend, saxophonist Mark Taylor, acting as mentor.

The ensemble traveling from Ellensburg includes Joel Steinke on tenor saxophone. He's a School of Jazz alumnus, performing with Edmonds-Woodway High School's jazz ensemble in our studios, as well as hosting a guest DJ hour at the end of his senior year.

As college can be an exciting time of exploration, the band members talked about pushing the limits of their music as performers and as fans. Another School of Jazz alumnus from his days in the Mount Si High School jazz band, bassist Nate Sharp, told us they're largely focused on learning the lessons of the jazz tradition, but also exploring the possibilities of the "crazy out stuff that's happening."

Mentor Mark Taylor emphasized the personal connections of jazz, saying the friends he made playing jazz in school make up many of his greatest friendships today.

That was echoed in Joel Steinke's answer to the question, "What advice would 'college Joel' give to 'high school Joel?'" "Keep your friends," he says. "Friends are what will guarantee your enjoyment playing this music."

And a friendly tour through a trio of jazz classics is what the CWU ensemble led us, including a song each from Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, and Freddie Hubbard. Trumpeter Nathan Fisher's arrangement of Hubbard's "Skydive" felt like the highlight, with wonderful solos all around and thrillingly complex support from the rhythm section.

These gentlemen are performing at a level head and shoulders above high school jazz bands, but are also realizing the limits of their skills and understanding the commitment necessary to progress. The future is bright, and the KNKX studios was full of smiles. Please enjoy these boys from Ellensburg.

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Abe grew up in Western Washington, a 3rd generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.
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