By Chad Tracy
Special to The Herald
Durango High School students Ella Gavlinski and Holden Becher have displayed dedication and talent as young jazz musicians and have recently made waves throughout Colorado.
Ella Gavlinski, daughter of Jeff and Rachelle Gavlinski of Durango, was born in Arizona and began playing piano at 5 years old.
Her older brother was already taking piano lessons, and she remembers trying to imitate him by climbing up on the piano bench to learn songs by ear.
After moving to Durango at age 8, she began taking music classes at Stillwater Music and private piano lessons with instructor Ryan McCurry.
Gavlinski loved to play classical and ragtime. However, after she performed at the Jazz Church and joined bands at Stillwater, she fell in love with jazz.
“Ella is awesome! She has no fear when we try new musical ideas – just plunges right in and goes for it,” McCurry said. “Another special thing about Ella is her choice of music. We have done some really hard songs in classical, jazz, Latin, pop, blues, boogie-woogie and New Orleans second-line styles. One of my teachers in the Boulder-Denver area, Paul Cotugno, once told me, ‘If you want to play piano for a living you’ve got know two things: be versatile and enjoy yourself!’”
When she was 8, Gavlinski had her first auditioned, public performance at the Music in the Mountains talent show, where she played “Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin.
She won first place at the La Plata County Fair talent show at 10 years old and has performed several times at the Bach Festival and Snowdown Follies.
Since she started high school last year, Gavlinski has played under the direction of Katherine Reed with the DHS marching band, concert band, jazz band, pit orchestra and wind ensemble.
And for the last three years, she performed on the main stage at the Telluride Jazz Festival with the Stillwater All Stars.
“She’s fearless musically. She will just jump in and take a solo on any song,” said Jeroen van Tyn, executive director at Stillwater Music.
All of her hard work paid off when she received regional and statewide recognition.
In 2016, as a high school freshman, she was chosen as the pianist for the Western Slope Advanced Honor Jazz Band.
This year, from a pool of nearly 300 applicants, she was again chosen as pianist for the Western Slope Advanced Honor Jazz Band, and was also selected as the first alternate pianist for the Colorado All State Jazz Band.
Gavlinski’s favorite jazz musicians include Thelonious Monk, Wynton Marsalis, Vince Guaraldi and Charlie Parker.
“She’s a role model for other girls who are interested in improvisational music,” said Stella Dickson, event coordinator at Stillwater Music and schedule manager at Katzin Music.
In addition to her love of music, Gavlinski is interested in chemistry, film editing and theater arts.
She has been involved with Merely Players since 2012 – first as an actor and now as a theatrical technician.
In her spare time, she enjoys reading books written by J.K. Rowling, Stephen King and Jane Austen.
Gavlinski plans to pursue a bachelor’s of music in college, and aspires to build a professional career as a musician.
Holden Becher, son of Justin and Verity Becher of Durango, was 12 years old when he first started taking classes at Stillwater Music. After playing vibes, marimba, piano, organ and steel pan, he decided to take up the saxophone.
As a sixth-grader at Escalante Middle School, he studied music with Evelyn Black.
His progression was swift. Before he finished middle school, he was invited to play at Carnegie Hall in New York City for the National Middle School Honor’s Series.
In New York, he fell in love with the jazz scene.
The middle-schoolers he played with at Carnegie Hall inspired him to work harder.
“I’ve known Holden since he started playing in Steve Djeka’s steel drum group. In the last year I’ve seen him just explode as a musician and performer,” van Tyn said. “I’ve seen him put in a tremendous amount of work. That’s what it takes to be a pro.”
Becher recently played in the DHS theater’s musical production of “Grease” and has performed on the main stage with the Stillwater All Stars band for the last three years at Telluride Jazz Festival.
Last year, he was named tenor saxophone first chair for the Western Slope Advanced Honor Jazz Band and the All State Jazz Band.
Some of his favorite jazz musicians include Chick Corea, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis and Charlie Parker.
Becher plans to apply to music school on the East Coast and pursue a career as a jazz musician.
Chad Tracy is an instructor at Stillwater Music.