OAKLAND -- The award-winning Skyline High School Jazz Band is gearing up for its annual benefit concert to raise money to send the students to a competition in Nevada, where they regularly compete against some of the best bands in the West.

The trip is a highlight of the jazz band's year, not only because of the competition but because it allows the band members to be inspired by the high quality of musicianship on display from other schools.

"It kind of makes you think, 'Wow! I really have to practice,'" said jazz band student director Ella Pearson, a senior.

The band will play two shows -- at 7 p.m. and another at 9 p.m. Tuesday at Yoshi's Oakland. Tickets are popular, as it's a good way for both the school and the wider community to pitch in -- not only to help the students, but also to sign up for a good night out at the club. And it's a big enough audience that the students need to step up.

"It's not really just your parents going, 'Yay! Good job!'" Pearson said.

Yoshi's, which has been around since 1972 and has hosted some of the biggest names in jazz and world music, is so well known that even though the band plays there each year, it's still exciting.

"Everyone has some jitters when we get there," Pearson admitted.

The Reno Jazz Festival, now located at the University of Nevada and more than 50 years old, brings together several hundred middle school, high school and college bands from across the West for three days of clinics and critiques in April.

According to parent volunteer Jocelyn Wong-Rolle, the band needs about $8,000 to take the group to Reno -- the bulk of which which they hope to raise at Yoshi's. That total includes money for a bus, hotel rooms and festival registration. It also includes spending money so that the more than 20 members of the band, no matter their household income, has enough for the trip. If extra money is raised, it will go to two other Skyline groups: to help the orchestra attend a festival in May and to get new drums for the marching band.

At last year's festival, Skyline's band was fourth in its "AA" category. In 2013, their first in that competition level, they came third -- behind a music magnet and a private school. But it's not just the rankings that are important. What also counts is that Skyline, which is known for its strong performing arts department, is the only school from Oakland to even make it to the festival. That's a testament to the importance of arts education at the school.

For Pearson, a pianist who started with classical music, the improvisatory element of jazz is a challenge, but a fun one.

"You kind of create as you're going, which is what I think is amazing about it," she said.

Pearson didn't want to give away the pieces the band will be playing at Yoshi's to keep an element of surprise, but admitted that the part she was most looking forward to was playing in a smaller group and adding a little bit of funk to the sound.

For the members of the band, the performances at Yoshi's and the trip to Reno aren't just an adventure, they're education -- just like jazz is for Pearson.

"It just expands your imagination," she said.

FYI
What: Skyline High School Jazz Band
When: 7 p.m. ($15) and 9 p.m. ($10) Tuesday
Where: Yoshi's Oakland, 510 Embarcadero W, Oakland
Tickets: at the door or at www.yoshis.com