LED lights coupled with silence and stillness. The crowd of parents and spectators wait in silence as the band director climbs up a flimsy ladder. Levi Rozek, a junior at NHS, watches for the conductor’s hand to drop; his solo awaits. Many in the audience may not know they’re about to watch one of the top five high school trumpet players in the country. For Rozek, the thought doesn’t cross his mind. Playing the trumpet is merely second nature. As his fingers tighten around the valves of his trusty golden horn, he sees the swoop of the hand all soloists wait for. It’s time to put on a show.
The interest of music can bond someone to it forever, drastically changing their outlook on life because of it. The same thing could be said for Rozek, who has been entrenched in the life of music since he was in elementary school.
“John Coltrane was actually playing while I was coming out of the womb,” Rozek said jokingly. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by music my whole life.”
Rozek mentions that his love of music came from his dad, and that the trumpet wasn’t even his primary interest. In fact, his first musical desire was to play the saxophone like his father.
“I really wanted to play saxophone like my dad,” Rozek admitted. Through experience, he says, he realized that the trumpet was the right instrument for him. “I happened to try the trumpet and I fell in love. I’ve never looked back,” Rozek said.
Since trying out the trumpet in the fifth grade, playing the golden instrument has been Rozek’s primary love. He quickly rose to the top of the NHS band program thanks to his dedication to make music, and it shows in all of his performances, according to his teachers and fellow bandmates.
Take it from Eric Thornbury, the band director at NHS who’s not only been playing trumpet for more than 40 years, but has been teaching Rozek during his time at NHS.
“Levi is one of the most talented high school jazz musicians I have ever come across in my teaching career,” Thornbury says. “His ear, tone, and ability to transcribe and then create solos is phenomenal.”
Rozek’s musical excellence doesn’t stop there though. According to Bethany Robinson, the Jazz Band Director at NHS, Rozek’s passion and drive for making music has only grown as the years go by, and his love for his peers and the band itself has only evolved.
“It’s really remarkable to see, and is already taking him on a national stage, and elevating our jazz program along the way—not just because of his musicianship, but his love of the people in the band,” Robinson says. “It’s one thing to work hard and devote yourself to the music, it’s another thing entirely to treat all of the other students around you with the amount of love and respect he has for his peers of all walks of life and all skill levels.”
Erick Murillo, a friend of Levi’s since eighth grade, feels the same way.
“He has an unparalleled desire to be great, and I truly believe he will be,” says Murillo. “I’ve seen Levi grow so much over the years, his favorite albums and artists have changed, his style has changed but what’s remained constant is his ambition. It’s hard to believe that he’s the same seventh grader I met five years ago.”
Rozek’s talent is not only recognized by his teachers and friends, but by the competitions and performances he has given as well. He’s participated in multiple contests including The National Jazz Festival, where NHS placed second in 2021 in the Large School Ensemble Category, and the Essentially Ellington contest in New York City, and according to his teachers and spectators, Rozek performed tremendously at both.
After participating in multiple competitions, his hope is to continue to rise up the ranks of music excellence.
“I want to play at Newport Jazz Fest and win a couple of Grammys,” Rozek said. While some could say shooting for the Grammys is ambitious, for Levi and his closest supporters, like Robinson, the sky is the limit.
“It’s a privilege to be able to have a front row seat to witness the beginning of what will certainly be a life-long journey of jazz music for this incredible student,” Robinson said.