The Timezone Jazz Combo features seven Evanston Township High School musicians. Credit: Courtesy of Timezone Jazz Band

First Night Evanston is marking its 26th New Year’s Eve celebration with a festive evening of live entertainment. This year – the first in-person First Night since the pandemic began – the opening act is a group of Evanston Township High School’s finest musical talents.

The Timezone Jazz Band, featuring seven ETHS musicians, will kick off the festivities at 7 p.m. Dec. 31 at First United Methodist Church, 512 Church St.

Luke van Leer is an ETHS junior who plays piano in the band. “I hope for our group to become well established and secure regular gigs at restaurants and venues in Evanston,” van Leer said. “First Night is an opportunity for us to get some serious publicity and share our talents with the Evanston community.”

In addition to van Leer, Timezone includes:

Sam Persell is an ETHS junior and has been playing trumpet since he was 9. He was the composer/orchestrator for a musical production, Learn to Live, which was the 2022 installment of MoShow at The Musical Offering, a local music school. Persell also has composed several big-band jazz works that have been performed by the Midwest Young Artists Concert Jazz Band and the ETHS Jazz Band.

Mitchell Nakamoto is a senior who plays alto saxophone. Playing sax at the Midwest Young Artists Conservatory is his biggest accomplishment to date, Nakamoto said.

“I am very excited to play, and I know the combo and I are really looking forward to this opportunity,” he said. Nakamoto also shared some resolutions for the new year: “In 2023, I hope to make strides in my musical abilities, but more importantly, I hope to get accepted to a college I want to go to.”

Toby Perlstadt is an ETHS senior and Timezone’s drummer. He said he first became interested in percussion when his grandparents bought him a miniature drum set when he was 4 or 5, and that inspired him to take on the drums when it came time to choose an instrument for band in fourth grade. He is the drummer for the top jazz band and jazz combo at the high school, as well as the drumline section leader in the ETHS marching band.

Double bassist Violet Weston is an ETHS senior. She said she has loved music since she was little. With enthusiastic support from her parents, she took percussion and drum lessons when she was younger, then started playing double bass and got into jazz. When she started out playing jazz freshman year, Weston said, she knew absolutely nothing about it, but really enjoyed it. So she practiced a lot, she said. The next year she got into the school’s top jazz band.

Senior Sam Roberson has been playing guitar since he was 10 and jazz since age 12. Roberson said even as a little kid he loved to hear his dad, an amateur cellist, play in a string quartet with friends. Roberson also has performed at the Jazz Showcase, a legendary Chicago jazz venue, with the ETHS Jazz Ensemble.

Finally, Tanner Carlson-Huber plays vibraphone, a percussion instrument with metal bars and a mallet, for Timezone. He has been playing percussion for more than eight years. Carlson-Huber performed both ballet and tap dance throughout his early childhood, and fell in love with the expressivity of music and improvisation. He said he still tap-dances, but not as often as he’d like. The summer before his seventh grade year, Tanner played the role of Billy Elliott in a community theater production in Champaign-Urbana.

Tickets to First Night 2022 include free parking vouchers for the first 400 attendees. Register now to see these student talents, as well as harmonica legend Corky Siegel, who returns to First Night this year, and “mentalist” Chris Carter.

Tickets are $30 general admission in advance, increasing to $35 on Dec. 31; $15 for students with ID. All audience members must be vaccinated and masks will be required in the venue for the duration of the performance.

To reserve your seat for FNE 2022, visit Eventbrite.

Belinda Lichty Clarke

Belinda Lichty Clarke works as the alumni engagement director at Medill at Northwestern and is a freelance writer. After graduating with a master’s from Medill in 1994, Belinda worked in public relations,...

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