Shawnee Jazz Ensemble’s journey to the State Finals

It's always a struggle for any team to win the state finals, but for Shawnee's ensemble, this year was different.

Shawnee seniors, from left, Samson Gutwirth, Josh Lamb and Matthew Mason and band director Nick Rotindo stand with the 2019 Cavalcade of Bands NJ State Jazz Finals champions plaque for the Count Basie Division in the band room of Shawnee High School on May 6.

They were down their best player.

Last month, the Shawnee Jazz Ensemble won the state’s jazz band finals without its star trumpet player, a missing factor equivalent to a starting quarterback, according to the band’s director.  

As the Shawnee Jazz Band competed in the 2019 Cavalcade of Bands New Jersey State Jazz Championships, its star trumpet player Carl Hauser was performing at the All Eastern Honors Jazz Ensemble, a prestigious collection of 18 students from across the East Coast.

“I knew I wasn’t going to deprive him of the chance of going to All-Eastern,” said Shawnee’s Band Director Nick Rotindo.

To fill Hauser’s place, the band and its director had to make a few changes. Matthew Mason, a senior and jazz ensemble member for the past two years, had to step up and perform as lead trumpet player. As Mason shifted to lead, other members had to fill in positions to make up for the transition.

“It was very nerve racking because I haven’t really ever played lead before at an actual competition, and the first one was states,” said Mason.

The band had to relearn songs just for the finals competition. Without Hauser and his ability to reach a high range on the trumpet, the band had to change a few songs to a lower pitch.

The news of Hauser’s invitation had been known to the band since December, however the group wasn’t able to make any transitions until the night of the show. While the group was aware of the issue that might come if it was to reach the finals, Rotindo and his students still had to worry about getting there.

“We couldn’t just put all our eggs into preparing for states, we had to go to all these other festivals as well,” said Rotindo.

Photo courtesy of Shawnee High School’s PicDove account. “Congratulations to Shawnee’s Carl Hauser ‘19 for being selected to the All-Eastern Jazz Ensemble where he will be First Trumpet. Carl will be performing as part of the All Eastern Music Educator’s Convention in Pittsburg this April. Carl is seen with Mr. Nick Rotindo.”

Throughout the months leading to the finals, the band performed in many different shows and festivals in front of judges. It was a balancing act for Rotindo and the band; learning from the judges’ criticism, practicing songs with Hauser and songs without, adjusting to fill in its lead player, all with a growing anxiety that someone needs to step up.

But according to the band members, what got them through the stress was the sense that they were all working through it together.

“I feel like we have a very good environment that’s really supportive to people, where you’re going to be able to perform knowing that the whole band has your back,” said Mason.

By the end of the competition, in addition to placing first, the ensemble also earned the Best Saxes and Best Trombones Awards. Its competition in the Count Basie Division were Sterling High School, Overbrook High School and Kingsway Regional High School.