Jazz Washing Away

Washington Middle School jazz band may be leaving classrooms.


In the upcoming school year, students at Washington Middle School are at risk of losing their distinguished jazz band, as well as features of their music programs. Due to Seattle Public Schools budget cuts, Washington Middle School faces a tough choice on what to remove. Their current proposal would result in discontinuing their jazz band for the 2023-2024 school year. 


This decision seems to many, like another piece of Seattle disappearing. Jared Sessink, director of bands and jazz at Garfield, expressed, “Frankly, to be totally honest … as the HCC (Highly Capable Cohort) program [at Washington] is gone, it’s less white privileged families, and now this is being implemented? So, to me this feels a lot like gentrification… there’s no recognition of the culture that used to be there, or the program that used to be there.”

The jazz program has been part of Washington Middle School since the 1970’s, providing hundreds of students with the opportunity to be a part of the jazz band and the community that comes with it. During the 40+ years the program has been running, it’s created a name for itself, winning numerous jazz festivals and awards. “It’s really sad because it’s been such a long standing part of Seattle’s music education scene,” alumni Bell Thompson added. Thompson is a professional musician who participated in the Washington and Garfield jazz programs. Jazz band students spend years with their peers, learning how to play together and mastering their instrument in order to succeed as a group. Sessink shared his concern about the long term effects of cutting the jazz band director position, “The worry I have is once you make a decision like this, it’s not like cutting a math class for one year, and then being like, ‘guess what it’s back’ … if you cut something like their jazz band or you cut a program out of the school that kids take over years, it’s really hard to reinstitute and make it successful.” Although many schools in the U.S. have some sort of musical education, jazz is deeply rooted in Seattle and its culture. “We are one of the few places in the country who have jazz classes that are as valued as any other music class in the school day.” Sessink said. “It’s not just the jazz program that’s being hurt, they’re basically going from two [music] teachers to one… there might be ninety kids in [a] class– you’re never going to get individual help,” Sessink went on to say. Parents, students and alumni of Washington and Garfield are signing petitions and voicing their opinions over social media in an attempt to save Washington’s jazz band. The future of jazz at Washington Middle School is now in the hands of the school board. With Washington Middle School facing insubstantial resources for the foreseeable future, it becomes unclear how these music programs will be able to flourish. As Thompson put it, “The more school programs that get defunded, the less accessible music starts to become from a younger and younger age.”