Area musicians get jazzed for Albemarle High School benefit

Accomplished jazz vocalist and Albemarle High School alum Veronica Swift takes the Jefferson stage on Sunday to help send the AHS Jazz Ensemble to the “Super Bowl” of student jazz competitions in Savannah. Photo: Martin Phillips Accomplished jazz vocalist and Albemarle High School alum Veronica Swift takes the Jefferson stage on Sunday to help send the AHS Jazz Ensemble to the “Super Bowl” of student jazz competitions in Savannah. Photo: Martin Phillips

Vocalist Veronica Swift has performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center several times. She’s got a regular gig at New York’s legendary Birdland, and she tours with trumpeter Chris Botti. She’s also shared the stage with Michael Feinstein, Esperanza Spalding and Paquito D’Rivera. But the 23-year-old Albemarle County native says the place she’s most happy is the band room at Albemarle High School, working with her former director, Greg Thomas, and mentoring members of the school’s jazz ensemble.

So it’s no surprise that Swift, the daughter of local musicians Stephanie Nakasian and the late Hod O’Brien, didn’t hesitate when she was asked to sing at Swing Into Spring, a March 11 concert to raise money for the AHS jazz band’s trip to Swing Central Jazz, a three-day high school competition and workshop that’s part of the Savannah Music Festival.

Swing Into Spring
The Jefferson Theater
March 11

“When I look back, a lot of what I have—and some of the best times of my life—is because of high school band,” says Swift, who lives in New York when she’s not on tour. “And what Mr. Thomas does for music education, well, it doesn’t feel like education because of all the great stuff he does and the way he thinks outside the box. I want to help that in any way I can; I want to be there for the band in the same way that Mr. Thomas was there for me when I was in high school.”

In addition to Swift, the Jefferson Theater show’s lineup includes John D’earth, Robert Jospé, Jamal Millner, Devon Sproule, Charles Owens, Terri Allard, Madeline Holly-Sales, Berto Sales, John Kelly, Stephanie Nakasian, Michael Coleman, Chance Dickerson and Dan Barrale. Erin Lunsford will also lend her voice to the event, which will feature the AHS Jazz Ensemble backing up the musicians, who will perform jazz standards and pop and R&B hits.

“Adults let me sit in with them when I was a kid, and it revolutionized my music,” Lunsford says. “I still try to play with people who are better than me—not that I’m better than these kids; some of them are really amazing—but playing with people who are more experienced than I am is how I grow even now, and I’m happy to give the opportunity to these kids that I had growing up.”

Liam O’Hanlon, a saxophone player in the AHS band [of which this writer’s daughter is also a member], is grateful for the opportunity. “It’s a privilege to have the support of so many of the area’s best musicians,” he says. “It makes me appreciate how fortunate we are to have such a passionate and supportive music community.”

O’Hanlon and his fellow student musicians will use money raised from the show to help pay their way to what’s been called the “Super Bowl” of high school jazz competitions, where, as one of 12 bands selected from nationwide auditions, they will compete against groups such as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Big Band and the San Francisco Jazz All-Stars for the Faircloth Award. They’ll also participate in sessions with jazz masters, including Jason Marsalis and Marcus Roberts, and perform at Savannah’s Jazz on the River.

“Every time I hear the AHS jazz band, I shake my head in wonder at the sound they are creating,” says Terri Allard, the benefit concert’s co-organizer. “Seriously, the band is that good. And add to that 15 professional guest musicians, and you have one incredible evening of music and camaraderie.”

To help fund the AHS Jazz Ensemble’s trip to the Savannah Music Festival, go to

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