PLEASANTON -- Chris Palowitch's trombone has taken him to the Grammy Awards, Canada, the East Coast and this month, it will take him all the way to Japan.
Palowitch is a rare three-time member of the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, a prestigious honor group affiliated with the Monterey Jazz Festival. The teen band will tour Japan in July before performing at Monterey in September.
"It's a great chance for me to meet other people who have similar interests and possibly meet future colleagues," Palowitch said of the Monterey ensemble. "The big thing for me is meeting people who have the same interests as me and making music with people I'd regularly never get the chance to meet."
Palowitch, a recent Amador Valley High School graduate, first picked up a trombone in fifth grade on the advice of his band teacher, Jason Borris. Palowitch had played trumpet for two years, so Borris told the young musician he'd be bored if he stuck with trumpet in a beginner band.
He chose trombone because it was a brass instrument, just like the trumpet, and because "Jason Borris is a great band teacher and a cool guy, and he plays trombone," Palowitch said. "I figured if I played trombone, I'd be cool just like him."
Palowitch played the tenor trombone, the most common form of the instrument, until high school. He picked up the bass trombone his freshman year of high school when he joined the wind ensemble. It's a niche instrument he's used to get
"The people who apply and make it in multiple times, it's a small amount," said Timothy Orr, a marketing associate with the Monterey Jazz Festival. "It's very competitive."
In fact, only 31 -- fewer than 5 percent -- of the 633 high school students who've been in the band since its 1971 inception are three-time members.
Palowitch is in good company. His older brother, John, was a three-time member as an alto saxophone player.
Palowitch, 18, credits his entire family, including sister Ann, who plays piano, with inspiring him to audition for elite ensembles.
"My brother, John, was doing all of this four years ahead of me," he said. "I saw what he was doing, and I wanted to do it, too.
"My parents (Carl and Marilyn) were definitely involved in bringing up me and my siblings as musicians," he added. "The most important part was making us practice every day.
"That's what you need to do to get better. They forced us to do that, whether we liked it or not. Even though I may not have liked it then, I'm definitely thanking them for it now," he said.
The Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, so named because its members are considered the next generation of jazz professionals, kicks off with a performance at the renowned Yoshi's jazz club in Oakland before leaving July 23 for a two-week performance tour of Japan. The 21-member band regroups in September to perform at the 55th annual Monterey Jazz Festival.
"It's definitely going to be a new experience," Palowitch said of his Asian tour. "They're big jazz fans over there. All but one night, we're doing home stays. It's going to be a cultural event."
Previous stints in Next Generation included an East Coast and Canada tour his first year as a member and a West Coast tour last year.
While Palowitch is too humble to toot his own horn (pun intended), his former high school jazz teacher, Mark Aubel, has no qualms about boasting.
"Chris is one of the best high school trombone players in the nation," Aubel said. "He's incredibly dedicated. He's very talented. He comes from a very talented family."
During his senior year, Palowitch was awarded Amador's Louis Armstrong award for playing jazz and the John Philip Sousa award for playing concerts, Aubel noted.
"As a teacher, when you have somebody as talented as him, you try to find ways to challenge him and showcase his talents," Aubel said. "That was always the great part about teaching him. You're limitless in what you can give him, and he can play it."
After Palowitch wraps up his thrilling summer, he'll head to the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., to double-major in music business and trombone performance. He's not certain what music career he'll choose, but he enjoys organizing events such as concerts, something he did throughout high school.
One event, held on the outdoor patio of a downtown Pleasanton business, brought together five bands, drew more than 300 people and raised more than $1,500 for charity.
"It's fun for me knowing what goes on behind the scenes, just seeing everything come together in the end and seeing people enjoy it," he said. "It really makes me appreciate the music business."
In addition to being in four Amador Valley bands, Palowitch played in Berkeley's elite Jazzschool studio band for three years and was in a garage band specializing in ska (punk rock music with horns). The band, Coasta Nostra, was chosen to play with the Vans Warped Tour when it came through Mountain View.
"We ended up the end of my sophomore year playing at Warped Tour, which is kind of a big deal," Palowitch said. "Warped Tour is a national tour that has about 60 performances across the country during summer."
Coasta Nostra was one of five bands out of more than 1,000 who auditioned who were chosen to perform locally with the tour.
"It made me like everything that went on behind the scenes," he said.
While Palowitch realizes not everyone can master an instrument, he urges everyone to get involved with music.
"Music is definitely one of the most sociable things to do, whether that's playing in high school groups, attending concerts or just sharing music with friends," he said. "Listening to music or attending concerts, they're some of the best things I've done in my life. I definitely wouldn't trade that for anything."