Star sophomore jazz musician wins big at latest competition

Deptford sophomore Mark Escarrilla won first place for the Outstanding Musicians category at the National Jazz Festival in Philadelphia

Pictured is Deptford High School sophomore Mark Escarrilla playing his alto sax. As one of the band’s star players, Escarrilla took first place in the Outstanding Musicians category against a majority of upperclassmen.

The Deptford High School Jazz Band had an impressive outing early this month during the inaugural National Jazz Festival in Philadelphia, placing second in the Group 2 division. 

The band outscored third-place competitor Ellington High School in Connecticut, and lost only to Princeton High School.   

Sophomore Mark Escarrilla, who plays alto sax, took first place in the Outstanding Musicians category, an achievement the school’s band director says is rare for a lower classmen.

“It felt pretty nice to win,” said Escarrilla, whose competitors were mostly seniors. 

The youth attributes his achievement to hours of practice. As a sixth grader, he started taking private lessons. Since then, he’s practiced at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. 

Even though Escarrilla is considered a young star musician, he isn’t the only band member who puts in long hours of practice. Escarrilla thinks the success comes from the band’s  drive to win, given that most of them have played together since elementary school and have seen previous classes win big. 

“I’ve always had great kids to work with, but this year, every single kid wants to practice and be held accountable,” said Deptford High School band director Carl Cox. 

Cox also credits the students’ success in the competition to group camaraderie.

“Their personalities and their drive to play music is what brings me a lot of joy,” he noted. “Because these kids want to learn, they want to get better. They realize hard work will pay off and they know what it means to work as a team.

“I think everybody is holding their own and individually practicing trying to get to a higher level of success,” Cox added. “All the kids that are here want to be here. It makes my job a lot more fun.

“This year, they have really great attitudes about respecting the music.”

The competition, held at the Philadelphia Convention Center, hosted bands from all over the country, including Puerto Rico and Florida. The schools were divided into divisions based on school population, with nine bands in each of the three divisions. 

The National Jazz Festival competition began this year after the prestigious Berklee High School Jazz Festival was suspended in 2019 to redirect event funds toward an education initiative for the Boston-based school’s undergraduate students.

The new festival allows thousands of students to share their talents and hard work with peers from around the country, according to the National Jazz Festival’s website. For more information and results of the festival, visit www.nationaljazzfestival.org/