Success For Cleveland at the PIL Jazz Competition


By Graham Jones, Reporter

Jazz bands from across the Portland Public School district dueled it out in epic musical fashion at the Portland Interscholastic League (PIL) jazz festival at Roosevelt High School on Thursday, Dec. 5. One of those bands was our own Cleveland Jazz Ensemble, a special band that is only accessible to join through audition. At the festival, all the bands performed three pieces of music that were judged by a panel of local musicians on different categories such as solos, rhythm, and overall quality of the performance. The judicators were Ezra Weiss, a composer and pianist from the contemporary jazz arranging scene; Carlton Jackson, a drummer and radio host of KMHD’s The Message; and Gary Harris, a saxophonist and member of the Portland band Soul Vaccination. Tension was high for the Cleveland Jazz Ensemble as they waited to be the last to perform, but luckily it was a performance that ended in success. 


The Jazz Ensemble band played the pieces “Emancipation Blues” by Oliver Nelson, “Round Midnight” by Thelonious Monk, and “Catch As Catch Can” by Lennie Niehaus. The band director, Gary Riler, was optimistic on the performance saying, “We didn’t need the scores to know we had done really well. We felt really good about our performance on stage. It was the best we had probably played through that set ever.” 

His optimism was not unfounded as the band left Roosevelt with second place and the scores 98, 88, and 74 out of 100 from the judges. Since two of the three scores were above 75, the band qualified for state. By qualifying, they will now be able to send in recordings of their music to a group of people who will decide if they get to compete in the state competition based on their festival scores, how they were judged, and how they themselves like the recordings. 

“It’s pretty exciting. The judicators really liked our performance and they had good things to say, so it’s really cool,” said junior Caleb Goodrich, a tenor saxophonist in the Jazz Ensemble band. 

Though Grant got the first place award and was automatically entered in the running for state, everyone seems to be in agreement that second place is just as outstanding of an achievement. Looking back at the last five years, Riler said this: “The last five years we’ve been rebuilding. Last year was a rebuilding year, but this year we’ve gotten better. This year has been the most comprehensive jazz group I’ve had here (Cleveland High School), comparable to the one I had my second year, which was really good.” 

Though it may be getting darker outside, the sun shines brighter than ever for the Jazz Ensemble group as they continue to be filled with energy and optimism while they travel down the long and treacherous road to state. 


Awards for specific musicians in the Jazz Ensemble band have yet to be communicated with Riler at this point, he said.