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NOTE: The application period for all instruments is closed. More news on the 2024 VJC Alumni Band will be forthcoming in Spring 2024.

ABOUT the VJC Alumni Band


Founded in 2016, the Valley Jazz Cooperative has consistently provided a wonderful space in which younger musicians could explore their creativity together in a  supportive, nurturing environment. With the VJC's move to Scottsdale's Ravenscroft in 2021, we also found we had a fantastic location in which to host an alumni band. Post-pandemic, there was great interest in starting one once we had achieved a "critical mass" of former members who wanted to participate in such a group. After six years in existence, we achieved such numbers. And in early July 2022,  the VJC Alumni Band debuted with a performance in Ravenscroft Hall. In late June 2023, the VJC Alumni Band performed again, joined by guest artists Stephanie Tateiwa (soprano and alto saxophone) and Oliver Gomez (bass), to a large, appreciative audience.

Our plan (annually) is to form an Alumni Band in the early part of each summer, rehearsing from mid-May through the end of June, with a performance each year at the end of June. That time frame has been chosen in the hopes that recent HS graduates who are going to college out of state can have an opportunity to be back with us then, should they be returning home to AZ for the summer. (FYI...There will likely only be five or six weeks of rehearsals before a performance, so it isn't a massive time commitment.)

Any VJC Alum in good standing is welcome to join and play, including all VJC Online ensemble performers who never got to play with the group live/in-person during the height of the pandemic. On certain instruments—such as saxophone and bass—we will likely have more than enough interest. From an instrumentation standpoint, if we end up having twelve saxophonists interested in playing, we'll have to figure out what that really means (be it rotational playing on a concert or some other solution).


 To accommodate as many people who want to participate as we can, let's consider three approaches to help achieve that goal...

• First, we can set up a hierarchy for acceptance/participation in the VJC Alumni Band. Here's how we will prioritize individual participation in the alumni program:

1) Alums who have been out of HS for one or more years will get the highest priority for acceptance/participation.

2) Alums who have just graduated from HS will get the second tier prioritization for acceptance/participation.

3) Alums who will be returning to HS in the fall will have the lowest priority for acceptance/participation, likely to help complete sections in the big band. (Please know your presence would be welcomed, and we would be very grateful for your participation. But we also hope you understand that this program is primarily intended for alums. So if your instrument is one that we already have enough college-age alums playing, then we may ask you to step aside or move to a different instrument, allowing the longer-term alum to play. If one's preferred instrument is something like baritone sax, it may be easier to move a HS student to another slot in the saxophone section. But if it is a rhythm section slot, that may be an impossible challenge to work around.)

The bottom line? We'll do our best to involve as many interested parties as we can.

• Secondly, if numbers warrant it we may break the program into two ensembles, allowing us to involve more individuals, as well as accommodate different levels of commitment, expertise, etc. Perhaps beginning in 2024, there may be:

1) A flexible instrumentation group. (Expanded combo? Saxes and rhythm section? Four to six [mixed] horns as a front line?) This group will be play more relaxed repertoire and be as much a social opportunity to connect as it is a musicmaking experience. Think of it as the Chillumni Band.

2) A full jazz ensemble that tackles more challenging music, while still being a good time socially. Think of it as the Thrillumni Band.

If/when we move to the two ensemble model, alums can ask/volunteer to be in both groups. But only if one's "dual" participation doesn't preclude someone else's involvement with at least one of the ensembles. We want to involve as many friends as we can.

• Finally, if we have an overabundance of interest on a particular instrument, how might we decide who participates in an ensemble?

1) The primary factor in determining placement is, of course, the three-tier hierarchy mentioned above. 

2) The secondary factor in deciding whether you might be placed in an ensemble will be one's availability for consistent rehearsal attendance.

3) Additional factors for placement will include how early one applies for the Alumni Band, the consistency of one's participation (reliability, etc.) dating from when one was originally in the VJC (VJC @ Ravenscroft, East VJC, West VJC, VJC Online, etc.), and the quality of one's participation in VJC groups. This last point isn't really about how well you play (or played). It is about the "VJC Alum in good standing" stipulation mentioned above. If you were a positive contributor, we will welcome you back in a heartbeat. If you were less consistently a positive presence, difficult to coach, disruptive in an ensemble setting, ghosted a final concert, etc., then I'm not confident that participation can be considered. We are doing this together to make great music and have a great time together. There is no reason to do this unless everyone gets on board the "have a great time together" train.

To provide more general information about the start-up process, the performance, and to clarify the planned rehearsal schedule:

••• Rehearsals will be on Tuesday nights. The first rehearsal will be scheduled for either 05/21/2024 or 05/28/2024 (still TBD) and continue on during the next four Tuesdays: 06/04, 06/11, 06/18, and 06/25. (So there will be either five or six rehearsals, in total.)

••• The rehearsals will run from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Performers will be able to enter the Ravenscroft building starting at 6:45 p.m. each Tuesday. Please note the building is always locked unless a concert is imminent, so Russell Schmidt or another VJC participant will have to let you in the front lobby doors.

••• The VJC Alumni Band concert will be on Saturday evening, June 29th. The concert will begin at 7:00 p.m., with a soundcheck shortly beforehand.

••• All rehearsals will take place at Ravenscroft Hall in Scottsdale (as will the concert). Ravenscroft is located at 8445 E. Hartford Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85255.

The final thing that comes to mind? We want this to be a great experience, both musically and socially. After the abundant challenges associated with the pandemic, having a communal, creative experience can truly be soul-restoring. So let's make sure the Alumni Band is always a fun, nurturing environment. And let us endeavor mutually to enjoy one another's company at all times!


Russell Schmidt

Director, Valley Jazz Cooperative

For anyone interested: here was our final line-up for the 2023 VJC Alumni Band:


Alto saxophone: Hayden Lucas

Colton Johnson

Tenor saxophone (rotational approach): Will Edwards

Theo Strich

Antonio Nango

Baritone saxophone: Elijah Valdivia

Trumpet (rotational approach): Jesse Deems

Leodan Parra

Ronan Gray

Sesar Parra

Elias Villa

Trombone: Kennie Sohadi

Guitar: Eddie Galicia

Bass: Spencer Huttenmeyer

Drums: Trevin Rockwood

Additional musicians included:

Stephanie Tateiwa, featured guest artist (soprano and alto saxophone)

Oliver Gomez, featured guest artist (bass)

Diego Jaquez, guest performer (trombone)

Chanson Peck, guest performer (trombone)

Kevin Bock, guest performer (tuba)

Russell Schmidt, director (piano)

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