By way of introduction, my name is Rick van Vliet, and like you, I’m a 1973 grad, and a Jazz ensemble member 1972-1973.
Folks, you may not realize that your NTW Recording Jazz Ensemble has had a tribute website up and running for the past couple of years! So, as we all get ready to gather at our 50th reunion I thought you might be interested in hearing what happened during the merger of New Trier West with New Trier East, and to all the alumni who you participated in supporting by attending our concerts, appearances, and purchasing our albums.
‘A 50 Year Story That Needs to Be Told’
50 years after their graduation, a prestigious group of NTW Jazz Alumni have documented their considerable accomplishments on an elaborate website, two years in the making, The website, themed ‘A Story That Needs to Be Told,’ was developed in order to tell the story of the creation, and evolution, of the Jazz Studies Program, at New Trier West, largely forgotten during the years following the merger of two high schools in 1981. Our guys have documented on this website, their professional careers that turns out to have had a profound effect upon the musical landscape throughout the world. Our alumni have performed on stage, in concert, recorded with, toured with, composed motion picture soundtracks, written/performed commercials, taught at, written and/or arranged music, produced recordings, or otherwise appeared with hundreds of esteemed groups and/or enterprises. Can you imagine all but forgotten by New Trier.
During the 1981-1982 merging of NTW and NTE, our director (Roger Mills), re-established the NTW Jazz Studies Program, and the Soundtraks Recording Studio, which did not exist at New Trier East. He directed the new program for one year, on the East campus, before retiring from music. Sometime during the following year, he received a call from a member of the custodial staff informing him that ‘all our stuff’’ was being tossed into a dumpster (files, records, trophies, tape recordings). He was asked if he wanted any of it saved. So, Roger got over to the school and did some serious dumpster diving, and with the help of a friendly custodian (or several), salvaged a great deal of ‘history’, our history. He also had already saved all the record albums from 15 years of NTW Jazz, shrink-wrapped. All of this is now remembered on our website.
After our 2013, “The 40th” reunion, I talked with Roger about doing a website, he thought it was a good idea. But it didn’t go anywhere until late 2020 when a group of NTW Jazz Alums who had visited the school with children, and grandchildren, learned that no one even seemed to remember that their current New Trier Jazz Ensemble program, along with Soundtraks, was founded and became internationally acclaimed, due to the efforts of all of us.
Anyway, we were able to contact approximately 175 NTW Jazz Alumni and with the help of everyone built a website to honor and respect the 16 years of NTW Jazz Students, and to tell a story that had been, until that point, forgotten.
In losing that history, New Trier has lost an immense pool of talent to call upon. Close to 200 of our classmates from 1966 through 1982 have been ‘brought back to life’ via this incredible website. Recently a reporter, for Downbeat Magazine, uncovered all of this while preparing an article regarding the history of jazz education in America and ultimately published a rather lengthy exposé about New Trier West High School. It was Published recently, January 2023 issue, and referred to all of us as pioneers in jazz education, while heaping credit on New Trier West. Us! The Downbeat feature article concluded by saying:
“The story of the beginnings (of jazz studies programs nationally) was in danger of being lost, which prompted the creation of the NTW website. It is one the more important, but less known, chapters charting the arrival of jazz into the canon of the (high school) curriculum.”
Fast forward to 2023 and some very impressive results are now in. The NTW Jazz Ensemble, which for 16 years, encompassed performances across two continents, and seven countries ended up producing an unusually large number of active and renowned alumni, who have pursued music-related careers and served as the inspiration and model for jazz programs and educators, throughout the country. Close to two hundred participants of those groups remain, many still performing. Our website documents all of this with autobiographical sketches, scrapbooks of media clippings, pictures, full length recordings, movies, a television program, and all is contained on the website. In addition, our grad’s 50-year professional careers are featured in a section that has been titled ‘Our Pros.’
Our Class of ’73 NTW Jazz Grads, who most of you heard in performances at West, are Peter Ballin, Steve Kujala, Rick Ehrlich, Brad Boehm, Mike Eigenbrodt, Rick Levy, Phil Hillman (dec.), Sid Karlin, Andy Sluss, Gary Hollander, Scott Steinman, Bob Jacques, Bill Pollack, Doug McClure, and me.
In addition, as you may remember, the Jazz Ensemble recordings were produced by New Trier West Soundtraks and JazTraks. We’ve got a whole page (see below) devoted to remembering their names.
The Jazz Ensemble Recordings, that a lot of you procured, when you were at West have been professionally remastered, and digitized, and the tunes sound better today than they did 50 years ago.
I hope you can visit the site and poke around. I’ve attached a few links here. Stream the music as you try to recover your New Trier West memories. Check out the scrapbooks and picture pages. We had fun putting all this together, and I hope you enjoy it as much. I have listed some direct links below for you to get into quickly.
Congratulations to All of Us on our 50th Reunion..
Reunion website “grad-ministrator”
The Main Website Home Page
The 1972 Montreux Jazz Festival Winning Group
The 1973 Music
The 1973 Group Page
The 2023 January Downbeat Magazine Feature
Soundtraks, The Story