Bennett Tollison received quite the surprise on May 4 when he was awarded the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award for Laurens District 55 High School.

Tollison has been a member of the jazz band at the high school for one year and been involved with the program in general for two years, only starting to play the guitar a couple of months before his involvement. He started playing guitar in the summer of 2021 and was primarily self-taught. 

He taught himself how to play several instruments, including the guitar, banjo, bass and ukulele. He says that he took piano lessons in middle school but it wasn't until he started playing guitar that he started playing regularly. 

"Guitar is a really good basis to start off with music, at least for me," Tollison said. "The whole point I took piano lessons was to eventually play guitar and never did until the summer of 2021."

Tollison taught himself primarily through YouTube videos and other online resources. 

Sara Glogowski serves as the band director at the Laurens District 55 High School and has worked closely with Tollison for two years, commending him on his skills and drive to become self-taught on several instruments. 

Each year, the music program at Laurens District 55 High School gives out awards to several seniors in the program on their achievements and skills in music, including the John Philip Sousa Award and Patrick Gilmore Award.

This year, they added the National High School Color Guard Award and the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award. 

Glogowski says that the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award is given to the "top jazz band senior," indicating that it was no tough decision to select Tollison for all of his hard work.

"I was so excited, and I really didn't expect to get it, so it feels really good," Tollison said. "This was the first time (I've ever been awarded a music award) because I've only been involved in the jazz band for one year."

Glogowski says that it is what was accomplished in this year that led him to win this honor. 

"(Tollison) learned a lot of music in a short amount of time," Glogowski said. "I walked into art class one day and said I needed a guitar player for jazz band and asked if anyone was interested. (Tollison said he would teach himself how to play guitar,) and he has really taken to playing the guitar." 

Tollison expects to continue with his music career and has already started to write a few songs and collaborate with friends on other projects as well. 

Those who wish to hear Tollison's musical abilities can see him perform at the Roseland Antique Shop on Laurens Square every Friday night. It is located beside Tacos & Bla Bla Bla.