“He was so quiet, his friends called him ‘Silence,'” Steen says. “He barely spoke, but he definitely spoke volumes when he played guitar. All the concerts he would sit next to me; I missed a couple entrances (or cues) because I was so entertained.”
Powell, who does not dispense unearned praise, says Rushing “had a lot of promise.” And 17-year-old trumpeter GianCarlo Jerry, a junior whose musical prowess makes him the band's de facto student leader, says Rushing's playing “was amazing.”
So the students go to Friday's premiere at Symphony Center as somewhat changed young people. They'll play Moran's opus of “uplift” and “pain” no longer as observers of gun violence but as those who have suffered from it.
“I didn't get to become close friends with him,” says Jerry, “but he impacted each and every one of our lives. When he passed, it was like, it was sort of a tragic thought that came to mind: Oh, wow, this danger in Chicago is, like, coming closer and closer to people around me.”
Bowman says he often finds himself thinking: “I wonder where Aaron is now.”
Saxophonist Steen grieves for what could have been.
“He has so much potential,” says Steen, refusing to relinquish the present tense. “I could see him being something great.
“And losing him how we did, and hearing about it — how he died — it definitely hurt hearing about it. I was really, really sad. I didn't get to go to his funeral, unfortunately.”
But Steen and others believe that Rushing will be with them Friday night at Symphony Center.
As she puts it, “We definitely have someone to play for.”
For the first story in the series, "Kenwood's journey," plus video and photos of the Kenwood Academy Jazz Band at work with pianist Jason Moran, go to chicagotribune.com/kenwoodjazz.
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The road to 'Looks of a Lot'
Feb. 20: Jason Moran visits Kenwood Academy for the first time and rehearses with students.
March 13: Students run through Moran's arrangement of Roy Eldridge's "Wabash Stomp."
May 8: Moran, via Skype, and bandleader Gerald Powell rehearse with students.
May 18: Kenwood guitarist Aaron Rushing, 15, shot and killed.
May 19: Bandleader Gerald Powell tells students of Aaron Rushing's death.
May 20: Students return to rehearsing Moran's score.
May 22: Moran returns to Kenwood to work with students.
May 27-28: Rehearsals with Moran continue at Kenwood.
Thursday: Dress rehearsal in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center.
Friday: World premiere of Moran's "Looks of a Lot," featuring the Kenwood Academy Jazz Band.