South Orange, NJ — Rafi Colton-Max is the sole drummer in the 2019 New Jersey All State Jazz Ensemble. The South Orange 16 year old played with the group during their first concert at the state teacher’s convention in Atlantic City earlier this month; their second and final performance will be this Friday, November 15 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. 

Colton-Max was “really ecstatic” when he found out he was named to the ensemble. “I was going up against a lot of really great drummers who are older and younger than me,” he said. He knows the other drummer chosen to back the 2019 All State Jazz Choir, having competed against him and played with him in the past, and he was “really excited that we both were accepted,” he said. This was the first year he tried out at the state level, having been accepted in regional ensembles for the past three years; these ensembles are produced by the New Jersey Music Educators Association to showcase rising talent from around the state. To combat any visual or relationship bias, the judges face away from the auditioning musicians so that they are judging solely on the performance.

Being in an elite ensemble like this helps Colton-Max forward his plan of drumming into the future: “I do plan to continue with music in college,” he said. Colton-Max is currently a junior at Golda Och Academy in West Orange. “I’m looking at different music schools and I’m excited to see where I’ll end up.”

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He has been playing nearly as long as he can remember. “I got my first drum set for my third birthday and I started taking lessons when I was six,” he said. He also plays piano, but noted he's not nearly as proficient as he is on the drums. He said he like playing drums for the “wide variety of ways you can play it for different goals and purposes. That makes it special.” He also said “it adds a nice color” to the band you’re playing with.

Dennis Mackrel, director of the ensemble, is also a drummer. “He is a great musician,” noted Colton-Max. “It’s been a great learning opportunity to learn from someone who plays your instrument.”

The ensemble’s Nov. 15 performance will be in NJPAC’s Chase Room. The band will be joined by trombonist and bandleader Steve Turre. Turre has been part of the Saturday Night Live house band since 1985. Tickets are available to the public.