It took six years of dedication and work, but Aaron Woods finally made it.
The Evans High School senior is the only student from Columbia County selected to play in the Georgia Music Educators Association's All-State Jazz Ensemble this year.
The association only picks 19 students from the state for a jazz ensemble consisting of five trumpets, five saxophones, five trombones and a rhythm section. Trumpeter Aaron made the ensemble.
"We have a regular All-State Band, but they pick a ninth- and 10th-grade band, two 11th-grade and two 12th-grade bands and an orchestra," Evans High band director Richard Brasco said. "As a trumpet player, you have five chances to get in the All-State Jazz Ensemble and that's it."
Aaron will be rehearsing with the other members of the ensemble and will perform Thursday-Saturday at the GMEA In-Service Conference in Savannah.
At Evans High School, Aaron is the first chair trumpet in Wind Ensemble I, the lead trumpet in Jazz Ensemble I and a soloist in the marching band.
He's been in band since he began sixth grade, but has admittedly struggled to reach the top.
"My brother played trombone and I always looked up to him, so when I was in fifth grade, I asked my mother if I could be in band. She said she'd sign me up, but with one condition - I had to stay with it. I decided to make the best of it," said Aaron, 17, the son of Harvey and Ginger Woods of Martinez.
Though he made it to the district level every year in high school, he did not make All-State Band until his junior year. He also tried out for the All- State Jazz Ensemble last year but didn't make it.
"I was determined I was going to make it this year, so I practiced an hour and a half every day," he said.
He said he believes it was his improvisation before the judges that put him in a seat this year. He credits his private music lessons with former local jazz player Carl Brown for helping him polish his act.
Aaron learned he had made the Jazz Ensemble while playing at a music clinic in Atlanta in December.
"When we got out for lunch, Mr. Brasco came up to me and shook my hand and told me I had made it. That was the last competition I was striving for - the biggest competition I could ever try out for. I called my mom and told her and she cried. It's been a rough four years."
Aaron said after graduation he plans to attend Augusta State University and pursue a dual major in music and pre-pharmacy. Jazz, he said, is an integral part of his life now, and provides a much needed escape.
"When I play jazz I can get lost in the music," Aaron said. "I don't care about what's going on in school, or how much work there is to do on my senior project. I don't care."
When he's not playing, Aaron is hard at work on his senior project, which will be on the history of jazz. He plans to wrap it up with a benefit concert - including his jazz combo partners - to raise money for a commissioned piece to honor band member Holly Spivey who died in a house fire last year.
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