Playin’ Around With Playbook: Jesse Espinosa
Hey everyone! After our time at JEN and Denton High School, we made our way down to Waltrip High School. With tens of their students beyond eager to learn, Playbook spent several days reaching and teaching students to make #joyfuljazz.
Former Trumpet Player for the United States Army Band, Jesse Espinosa is the Band Director at Waltrip High School. Under his direction, the Waltrip High School band program is recognized as one of the top 5 Title I music programs in the United States. Their Jazz Ensemble 1 has also won many 1st Divisions and special awards at various Contests and Festivals. Most recently, The Waltrip RamBand Jazz Ensemble 1 won the 2019 Bob Mintzer Jazz Band Award, a national competition. The band is currently in the works to schedule a concert featuring the band and Grammy Musician, Mr. Mintzer, once the Corona Virus is over. Jesse was also a quarter-finalist for the Grammy’s Music Educator Award 2020.
This week on Playin’ Around With Playbook, I had the opportunity to talk with Jesse about these experiences.
Below is an excerpt from our conversation on January 20th, 2022. Click here to view the full interview.
TRISTA FORD: So I know that the jazz ensemble has won many awards, and recognitions, and has performed with a lot of renowned artists. Do you have a favorite experience directing, competing, or performing that stands out to you?
JESSE ESPINOSA: The one that stands out to me the most would be Mic Gillette, a former member of the tower of power. He actually came to our festival three years in a row, and he actually helped me and helped us find our way in inspiring the kids, inspiring myself as well, to just be performers. You know, we get so wrapped up in being on the education side of things, and we forget how to have fun and perform. So he really impressed that on us. And of course, that led us to perform with the likes of Jon Faddis and Vincent Gardner and other musicians as such. Unfortunately, he passed away a few months ago from a heart attack, but I’ll never forget that experience with him.
SAMMY MILLER: Jesse, I had the chance to finally get down to Houston last week, and I can’t believe it was only a week ago, we had spent some time with Jesse and the school. I’ll say one of the things that stood out to me [was this experience]: when you go into a school, you say are there any volunteers, would anyone like to participate, and you know… crickets as far as I can see. But in this school, you say to them like, does anyone wanna participate, can I get a volunteer? Every hand goes *Sammy raises hand*. I’ve never seen that in all of the schools I’ve visited. Can you just talk about the culture of your band, like what you do to create that culture?
JE: Sure, and that just warms my heart that you recognize something like that, because we do focus on the music quite a bit. But beyond that, student leadership and character are huge components that we want to spend a lot of time on. I try to get the students to understand that you have to seize the moment and take advantage of the opportunity, and sometimes that’s sacrificing yourself and your time, and being willing to step forward with things. That’s because you never really know who you’re talking to, or what can come from that. If you’re hesitant or reluctant to do things, like raise your hand for something, it could be something missed dearly, and so uh, we have fun with that, because obviously, we are around each other all the time, and when it’s time to volunteer, I don’t tell them what I’m asking for. I want 100% buy-in from them. If they want 100% from me, they gotta give the same. What you want to receive, you gotta give first.
TF: Why do you think programs like Playbook are so important in today’s classroom?
JE: Ah, well, I don’t think we can do anything nowadays without technology being involved. A lot of technology can be impersonal, and it’s just a page or what have you. Something like Playbook is interactive and it’s something you can spend a lot of time with, and something you can see actually executed by the actual musicians. It’s not just something reading that’s written. Everything about it just makes you feel like you’re a part of the band. That’s something really unique and that really spoke to me from the very beginning. I hope Sammy doesn’t mind me sharing this part of our story. When we first met and talked about Playbook, he wasn’t trying to sell me anything, he was trying to share something. That’s the feeling you get when you hit play on that recording, and you hear Sammy’s voice and he’s like “alright guys,” here we go. I love Jamey Aebersold and I think we can see Playbook as sort of the evolution, but now it involves the band. You talk about culture earlier, and we’re a family. It’s through the ensemble that we grow those individuals. With a resource like Playbook, it’s done wonders for us.