Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Music student jazzed by first-place composition

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When 17-year-old Devon Gillingham wrote the jazz piece Remember to Forget for an international student composition contest, he didn't write it because he wanted to win.

"It was just sort of an excuse to finish a tune with a deadline with that extra motivation," Gillingham said.

Despite that, the piece has made Gillingham, a Grade 12 student at Transcona Collegiate, the winner of the first Essentially Ellington Gerhard W. Vosshall Student Composition/Arranging contest.

For that, he will get to see and hear renowned jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in New York City record his piece at the Essentially Ellington festival May 10 to 12.

Daniel Steinhilber, Gillingham's music teacher, told him about the competition last November.

Although Steinhilber didn't know his student's chances, he thought Gillingham had a good shot at winning.

"I thought that he was definitely in the running to win. You never really know who else is going to be out there, so you can't be assured that someone is going to win, but I knew that he would be in the top," Steinhilber said.

Steinhilber began working with Gillingham when he was in Grade 6.

Gillingham eventually moved on to Transcona Collegiate, and Steinhilber later followed him there.

In between, Steinhilber founded the East Side Jazz Band, a local group he invited Gillingham to join as an upright bass player.

Gillingham also takes a composing and arranging course in school that Steinhilber said was designed specifically for him.

"We knew he would be doing these things and we wanted to allow him to do that within the framework of the school and give him credit for it," Steinhilber said.

The inspiration for Remember to Forget came after hearing the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra play the Vitoria Suite, a piece written by Marsalis, Gillingham said.

He said both pieces are influenced by swing and Latin music.

"Just in listening to that album many times, because it's a great album, the tune I wrote sort of came out like that," Gillingham said.

His love for jazz comes out of the improvisational aspect of the performance and having musicians play a different tune every time they approach a piece.

"Listening to people like (Marsalis), what they can do with a set of chord changes and his mind has always blown me away," Gillingham said.

When Gillingham goes to New York in May, he'll be nervous at the prospect of professional musicians taking on his piece, he said.

"They're not intimidating, but they are to me, as a kid who's seen them and listened to them a lot but would have never thought that I'm going to be meeting these people any time soon," he said.

Steinhilber said he's excited to see where this award takes Gillingham.

"Devon is the type of student that will create excellence in whatever situation he's in. All I've done is try to provide opportunities to grow and for him to find the next level.

"I've seen him grow from this 12-year-old kid to this really mature musician who has limitless potential. I'm pretty excited to see where this is going to take him," Steinhilber said.

oliver.sachgau@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 26, 2013 A2

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