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16-year-old musician selected for prestigious orchestra

Rocamora to tour Japan
By: Laura O?Brien, Press Tribune Contributor
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For 16-year-old Roseville trumpeter and jazz composer Jeric Rocamora, the language of jazz comes naturally.

The Robert C. Cooley Middle School grad was selected for the Monterey Jazz Festival’s prestigious Next Generation Jazz Orchestra comprised of the top high school jazz musicians.  The orchestra plays Yoshi’s San Francisco later this month, followed by a two-week tour of Japan including performances and cultural exchange.  The group plays on the festival stage in Monterey on Sept. 23.

“It gives them a real experience of what it is like to be on the road like bands of yesterday,” said Next Generation Orchestra Director Paul Contos.

Rocamora is a rising junior at Rio Americano. He received an interdistrict transfer into the San Juan Unified School District because of the school’s Honors Concert Band, which offers college credit. He also plays in Rio Americano’s AM Jazz Ensemble, which recently won fourth among the 15 best high school jazz bands at the Essentially Ellington Festival at Lincoln Center in New York. 

During an interview at his home in West Roseville, he described how he first picked up a trumpet as a sixth-grader at Cooley.

“It was just kind of a luck thing,” he said. “They were low on trumpets.”

Rocamora was selected for the state Honor Band while at Cooley.  He also played with the Roseville Community Concert Band.

He said his early musical influences include Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. His favorite jazz artists are trumpeters Chet Baker and Woody Shaw, a renowned composer and band leader.

“It’s not like jazz stays in the same era,” he said. “It kind of moves forward, but it takes from the past, too.

“You have to be good at your instrument but it’s more about listening to the music,” he said. “You don’t really play what’s written on the page.  You play what comes out of your instrument when you play what’s on the page.”

Rocamora’s achievements include recognition for composing. He wrote two big band pieces for the AM Jazz Ensemble.

“He’s a really, really talented composer,” said Joshua Murray, band director at Rio Americano. “In the long run, he may end up making a living as a composer.”

Contos said he has included selections from Count Basie, Duke Ellington and the best current jazz arrangements in the Next Generation Orchestra’s performance repertoire.

“None of it’s easy but they can handle it because they’re the best young players,” he said.

Murray said the Next Generation Orchestra and the Grammy Jazz Ensembles are the two highest honors for high school jazz artists.  He credited Rocamora’s quick development into an exciting jazz trumpeter to the teen’s hard work.

“He’s an exceptionally hard working kid and also very, very talented.  When you put those things together you get kids like him that achieve a lot at a really early age.”

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Next Generation Jazz Orchestra tour dates

July 22: Yoshi’s San Francisco

July 23 to Aug. 6: Performances and cultural exchange programs in Japan

Sept. 23: 55th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival