Only 21 students in the entire state of Georgia were selected for the very prestigious All State Jazz Band Ensemble and Newton High School senior Hezekiah Rodgers is one of them. Rodgers will play the 1st alto saxophone at the concert this Saturday, January 30, at the Classic Center Theater in Athens, Georgia.
According to Newton High School band director Jason Smith, Rodgers’ placement means that he is the top high school saxophone player in jazz in the entire state of Georgia.
“I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of Hezekiah and his progress on his instrument,” said Smith. “Hezekiah is the type of student that only comes around once in a lifetime. Not only is he talented, but he is also a hard worker. He continually seeks out ways to become a better musician and is always ready to share his knowledge with his fellow students.”
Rodgers first picked up the alto sax in sixth grade when he signed up for band at Cousins Middle School. Ironically, the sax wasn’t his first choice. In fact, he didn’t even want to play a musical instrument.
“The funny thing is I actually wanted to play the trumpet originally because my parents were pushing me hard to learn an instrument because they had heard about how it’s good for the mind and all that stuff,” he explained with a laugh. “I picked the trumpet because I didn’t want to play an instrument and I figured if I’m gonna have to play an instrument, I’ll play the loudest one so they’ll make me stop.”
After trying the trumpet, it was determined that instrument wasn’t a good fit. Instead, he was handed a saxophone, and six years later, he’s not only still playing it—he’s also one of the best in the state! Along the way, Rodgers developed a love and appreciation for jazz music.
“There’s just something very expressive about it that you can’t really get from a lot of other music,” he said. “Jazz idiom, one of the most prevalent things about it is improvisation and that really allows me to let myself become part of the music and really express what I think that the music should sound like.”
With only 21 students selected for the All State Jazz Ensemble, the competition was steep, requiring not one but two auditions. According to Rodgers, the first audition included playing eight scales and also a sight reading portion. When he was invited back for the second audition, he had to play two etudes and two sight reading excerpts, one of which was improv.
“I actually thought it was a mistake when I was notified I made it,” he said. “Then I got it verified and I was ecstatic and just bouncing around everywhere. I hugged my mom because she was sitting right next to me when I got the news.”
His selection to the All State Jazz Ensemble allows him the opportunity to perform under the supervision of this year’s conductor, Don Braden, a Harvard-educated Jazz musician of the highest caliber who has worked with jazz greats including Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, and Ray Haynes.
Rodgers is also excited about the thought of working with the very best high school jazz musicians in the state. In fact, he’s already met several of them at previous events.
“They are some very talented individuals and are just people who are very easy to get along with,” said Rodgers. “I’m most eager to join them and just meld together with the music because you can’t really have a good ensemble unless everyone’s able to feel the music together.”
Picking up that saxophone in middle school and honing his skills throughout high school has had a major impact on Rodgers, because he hasn’t just developed a passion for music, he’s also found his future career.
He applied to and was accepted to attend Columbus State University and has already made plans to audition for their Schwob School of Music this March. His goal is to have a career in performance. Long-term plans include possibly obtaining a doctorate in music education so he can one day teach jazz studies in college.
Of course, this comes as no surprise to his high school band director.
“Hezekiah is a humble, yet hungry individual who has an extremely bright future ahead of him,” said Jason Smith.
Newton High School principal John Ellenberg also expressed his pride in Rodgers’ accomplishment.
“Whenever one of the students at Newton High is recognized for their talents I am thrilled for them,” said Ellenberg. “I am so excited for Hezekiah. This is a tremendous accomplishment for him. He is a fantastic musician and by making the All-State Jazz Ensemble, now even more people will have the opportunity to experience and enjoy his talents. I have no doubt Hezekiah will represent us well.”
“Congratulations to Hezekiah,” added Newton County School Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey. “Being identified as the top alto saxophone player in the entire state is an outstanding accomplishment! An invitation to play alto saxophone in the All-State Jazz Band ensemble will provide Hezekiah an additional opportunity to highlight his amazing talent! Some of the most talented students in the state are right here in Newton County Schools and Hezekiah is a classic example. I am extremely proud of him and wish him the very best.”