Marina Quintanilla

Marina Quintanilla, left, of the Temple High School Highlighters Jazz Band rehearses at Temple High School.

Temple High School senior Juan Garcia had been practicing for weeks to hit that high note on his trumpet.

He practiced daily with the Highlighters, the school’s elite jazz ensemble. And he polished his horn until it sparkled.

“Every time we rehearsed, it was as if we were performing,” he said.

The audience doesn’t always know what goes into practice.

“There’s so much team work involved,” he said. “All they see is the finished performance.”

Garcia, 17, hit that note perfectly during the band’s recent performance at the Kansas City Jazz Summit, a four-day festival that includes student performances and workshops with professionals.

During the festival, the Highlighters won first place in the coveted Kansas City Jazz Heritage Basically Basie Competition, beating about a dozen other college, middle and high school jazz bands from across the country in a classic battle to best capture the essence of the Kansas City Style exemplified by the Count Basie Orchestra.

“It took a lot of power to get there, but we did it and the band exploded with emotion,” he said. “We were having so much fun; everyone that heard us couldn’t help but love the music. “

The song was Deedles’ Blues, composed by Diane Schuur, one of five tunes performed decades ago by the Count Basie Orchestra.

Marina Quintanilla, 18, sang with the Highlighters in the contest.

“It was so overwhelming and amazing to hear our band named as the winner,” she said.

The Temple High School senior who has been singing since her parents gave her a karaoke machine for Christmas when she was 9, said a passion for music helped her be her best. She also drank a lot of water.

“We truly enjoy what we do,” she said. “That’s our motivation.”

After graduation this year, the alto who also enjoys performing musical theater plans to attend Oklahoma City University to study music with a concentration in voice.

Other Basie favorites performed by the Highlighters included Rompin’ at the Reno, Meetin’ Time, and Kansas City Shout.

Although most of the tunes are from an era that most teenagers are not familiar with, director Brent Mathesen said the Highlighters captured the essence of Basie’s style.

“Great music is timeless,” he said. “The judges remarked that listening to our band convinced them that the students were having a good time performing. That’s the best compliment we can get.”

Held on the campus of Kansas City Community College, the festival also allowed students to work with master musicians.

They performed a number of times, including at the American Jazz Museum. And they attended additional performances to watch jazz professionals in action.

Their April win isn’t the first time the Highlighters have won national accolades.

In 2011, the band’s recordings of tunes by Duke Ellington won them a trip to New York City for the Essentially Ellington competition.

Mathesen credits the high school jazz band’s successes to the Temple school district’s dedication to music education. Since the 1950s, jazz band has been part of the daily high school curriculum, he said.

Temple High School has two jazz bands and all the middle schools each have a jazz band, which meet as classes during the school day.

That’s different than some districts where jazz band practices are held after school as an extracurricular program.

All the jazz bands in the Temple district are preparing for May 27 end-of-the-year concerts.

The district has a working relationship with musicians at Temple College and professionals who often come to the school to interact with students and guide them. Mathesen, a trombonist, has performed with the Temple Jazz Orchestra for 25 years.

“Music teaches team work and it teaches students how to connect with the emotion within themselves and beyond themselves,” he said. “They learn to create emotion in others.”

Shane Baxter, 17, a junior, said playing for the Highlighters has taught him about the power of music.

“When we are up on stage we are really into it, we’re in a different world, and it makes a difference,” he said. “It’s something the audience can feel.”

As a trombonist, the success is in breathing.

“For practice, I would just sit there and play a short note, then a longer one and a longer one until I ran out of breath; and I kept going,” he said. “I wanted to challenge myself.”

He said he hopes to go to Temple College for two years then to the University of Houston where he wants to major in education and minor in music performance.

Xavier Shannon, who plays guitar for the Highlighters, said being in jazz band has helped instill in him the importance of practice and the power of team work.

“We help one another and I like to see how we build as we go and improve,” he said. “It’s made me love music.”

Although he wants to study fisheries biology at Texas A&M University after attending Temple College, he said he is now considering minoring in music.

Garcia is also thinking about attending Texas A&M after Temple College, to study biomedical engineering.

The trumpet player is also thinking about minoring in music, or selecting it as a double major.

No matter what they decide, Mathesen said music is something students can take with them wherever they go.

“Music enhances our lives,” he said. “It makes life better for everyone.”