Oakland middle school band plays in Pixar's 'Soul'

Pixar's newest film, "Soul," features the life of a middle school band teacher looking for his big break.

And one Oakland middle school's jazz band got its big break too, playing in this historic film. 

Some members of the Edna Brewer Middle School Jazz Band played "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" in the film after a chance dining experience by Pixar producer Dana Murray who was eating at Yoshi's in Jack London Square.

By coincidence that evening, the Edna Brewer band was on stage and Murray thought: Why have professional musicians play middle school students in the movie? Why not just have middle school students do it?

At least that's the story Edna Brewer Middle School music director Zack Pitt-Smith has heard recounted, and which he told to KTVU on Wednesday morning. 

What happened next was history.

Pixar's "Soul" hit the Disney channel on Christmas Day and tells the story of band teacher, Joe Gardner (played by actor Jamie Foxx) seeking to reunite his soul and body after they are accidentally separated, just before his big break as a jazz musician. It is also Pixar's first movie featuring a lead Black character. 

"I never really thought I'd get that opportunity," said Kazeem Elebute, who used to go to Edna Brewer and is now a sophomore at Oakland Technical High School. When he got to the Pixar studio in Emeryville, the massive headphones and high-tech equipment stunned him. 

"This is crazy," he said. "This is really happening." 

After watching the film about 20 times, Kazeem said it "felt really good. I was proud of it."

Pitt-Smith countered he was not half as contained when he saw it.

"I was jumping out of my seat," he said, noting the details in the movie were perfect from the kid looking at his cell phone to the trombonist whose slide falls off during the opening middle school band scene. 

Afterward, Pixar and Yamaha offered to donate $10,000 to Edna Brewer to buy more instruments. But Pitt-Smith declined the offer, wishing the money go to another school in the district with more needs.

As for being part of this ground-breaking film, Pitt-Smith said he and the students are grateful for the experience. 

"The movie is about discovering your own sound and struggling to get through this dark moment in humanity," he said. "The spark inside us can get us through."