Newton High School’s Hezekiah Rodgers is in prestigious company.
Rodgers, is one of just 21 students from all of Georgia selected for the All-State Jazz Band Ensemble.
Not only was he one of just 21 students chosen to play in the band, but he was picked the top student who plays the alto saxophone. Rodgers sat in the first chair when the band performed Saturday at the Classic Center Theater in Athens.
“I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of Hezekiah and his progress on his instrument,” said Jason Smith, Newton High School’s band director. “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,” Rodgers said 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.”
The trumpet, however, wasn’t a good fit. Instead Rodgers 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. While learning his craft, Rodgers also developed a deep 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.”
Rodgers knows a thing or two about what music should sound like, and that was proven during his auditions for the All- State Jazz Ensemble. With only 21 students selected for 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 improvisation.
“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.”
Playing in the All-State Jazz Ensemble gives Rodgers the opportunity to perform under the supervision of conductor Don Braden, a Harvard-educated Jazz musician who has worked with jazz greats such as Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard and Ray Haynes.
Braden isn’t the only top-notch musician Rodgers will get to work with, but he’ll also have some talented band mates throughout the ensemble.
“They are some very talented individuals and are just people who are very easy to get along with,” Rodgers said. “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.”
After All-State Jazz Band and high school Rodgers plans on making a career of music. He has applied to and been 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.
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,” Smith said.
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,” Ellenberg said. “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.”