Decatur jazz band prepares for trip to Taiwan

Language of music leads to international adventure for high school musicians.

Music is a universal language that can break cultural barriers all over the world, says Jeff Chang, the director of bands at Decatur High School. For Decatur’s jazz band, music is taking them to Taiwan this month.

“Since I’m from Taiwan, I still have a lot of friends who are music educators and professional musicians in Taiwan,” Chang said, who was born and raised in Taiwan. “I was chatting with some friends online and they said ‘hey, do you want to bring your band to Taiwan to play?’”

After consulting with the 19-member jazz band, Chang eagerly accepted the invitation.

“We are passionate about our music, and we enjoy sharing this music with others,” Chang said.

The jazz band will be performing at the 2018 Taichung Jazz Festival – Blooming Jazz, a professional festival in the capital of Taiwan, and collaborating with the Taichung School for the Visually Impaired.

Decatur’s jazz band will also do a collaboration performance with The Riot Jazz Orchestra from National Taiwan University at the Riverside Live House, which is part of the historic Red House Theater in Taipei. The theater was built in 1908, and a century later, part of the theater was converted into the Riverside — one of the largest live house venues in Taipei.

“[I’m excited about] so many things,” he said. “First of all, for me, it’s going home in a sense.”

“These are my babies right here,” he said motioning toward the band warming up at a recent 6:20 a.m. practice. Chang has been teaching at Decatur for six years, and previously moved from Taiwan to California during his high school years.

Decatur is quickly building a strong reputation in the jazz band community, he said.

“To be able to take them to Taiwan to show them off … I’m really excited about that,” Chang said, noting this trip will give the band an experience of playing side-by-side with professional musicians on a professional stage.

For most of the students, this will be their first time traveling overseas, he said.

“I’m really excited about these kids going to a foreign country. I think for most of them this is their very first time going to a foreign country or going to an Asian country,” he said. “I’m excited to see what their reactions are going to be and what they get out of this trip.”

Along with interacting with a foreign culture and enjoying food from a different part of the world, Chang said he hopes the students see how powerful the language of music really is.

Decatur senior Devin Adams, who plays the trombone, said the reality of this adventure is finally setting in.

“It was kind of surreal to me that we were going. I was like ‘oh, yeah we’re going on a trip, this is cool,’” he said, adding his excitement for the chance to experience a new culture. “But I didn’t really make the connection we were going overseas and leaving the country. I’ve never left the country myself. It’s finally set in over the summer and now that we’re preparing in the final month before the trip.”

Adams, a jazz band member for three years, said he appreciates the relationship between the band and Chang.

“From an education perspective, it’s been great because Chang doesn’t see us as a student-teacher thing. It’s more of he’s our director and we’re musicians to him,” he said. “It breaks that wall. It’s an opportunity for him to teach us without us sitting down in front of a desk and writing down everything he says.”

Alto saxophonist Walker Brady said the musicians in Taiwan are quite talented. But Brady, 16, a jazz band member since seventh grade, plays nine different instruments — a unique gift in the music world.

“I was pretty excited when I found out because I thought we were better known locally, maybe around the state, but to be invited to an international event where there’s going to be a bunch of big names there … that’s pretty surprising,” said senior Jonathan Dambacher.

The Decatur jazz band has performed at local senior centers, the state superintendent meeting, school board meetings, school assemblies and local schools in Federal Way. They’ve also performed at jazz clubs such as Tulas in Seattle and Luther’s Table in Renton, as well as the Central Washington University Jazz Fest, FWPS Jazz Festival and the Commencement Bay Jazz Festival, where they placed second overall last year.

Dambacher, who plays tenor saxophone and the drums, said music decides the direction of one’s day.

“It’s a lot of energy, and it’s fun to be a part of something really big,” he said. “When it all comes together and it sounds so good, it helps you go through the day. Different styles of days, different styles of music.”

The Decatur jazz band has less than two weeks to fine-tune their sound before the international adventure begins on Oct. 17.