Multi-level jazz bands create harmony


Jazz Musicians up close

A large crowd of friends and family filled the Little Theater at Oak Park and River Forest High School for the Winter Jazz Concert on Wednesday, Feb. 7. As the lights dimmed, the room fell silent in anticipation and the musicians took the stage, all dressed in black.  

     The concert was unique because it combined four separate jazz groups: the Gwendolyn Brooks Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Band II, the Percy Julian Jazz Ensemble, and Oak Park and River Forest’s Jazz Ensemble. Each of these bands represented a different skill level of jazz music, and most of them played three different songs. However, Jazz Ensemble played five songs.

     Diverse sets of instruments were used during the performance, including piano, guitar, saxophone, flutes, trumpets, drums and trombones. The music ranged from loud and bombastic to slow and romantic, providing a diverse listening experience. 

     The first song, “Blue in Host Flat” played by the Gwendolyn Brooks jazz ensemble, was a loud and powerful piece of music, which started the concert off with a boom. “My Foolish Heart,” played by the OPRF jazz ensemble,  was a slow and delicate piece that enchanted the audience. The concert ended with “Recordame,” also played by the OPRF jazz ensemble, was an explosive, vibrant piece that ended the concert the way it started–with a boom.

Jazz ensemble is the highest level jazz band at OPRF, and meets before school every day except late arrival Wednesdays. Jazz ensemble requires an audition to join; auditions are typically held in May. Jazz band II is the lower level jazz group at OPRF. Jazz band II requires no audition, and is a lot more casual compared to jazz ensemble. Jazz band II meets in the band room after school every Tuesday from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. 

OPRF freshman Ivanich West is a member of jazz band II. West plays trumpet, mellophone and french horn, although he mostly plays trumpet and has been doing so for the past five years. West joined jazz band II during the concert season of this year, and thoroughly enjoys it. “I like that jazz band allows me to play loud and melodically,” West said.

OPRF sophomore Hailie Donald is also a part of jazz band II. Donald has played the flute for seven years, but also plays violin, cello and the recorder. Donald is an avid jazz lover, which makes jazz band II a natural fit. “I love jazz; it has the soul feeling you get. I also wanted to join because it caught my attention after school in the band room,” said Donald.

Spencer Bell has played trumpet since fourth grade and is a part of both jazz ensemble and jazz band II. Bell is a senior who plays trumpet for the jazz ensemble. Bell has also picked up the trombone for jazz band II. Bell only plays trombone in jazz band II because he is less experienced with it, but the lower level band offers an opportunity for him to improve in a less competitive environment. 

Bell recommended students who are interested in jazz music join either band. “The music that you play has to be the main attraction,” he said. “A lot of it is just so fun. I have a lot of good memories.” 

However, if students are worried about not having the skill to join jazz ensemble, Bell suggested starting out in jazz band II. “Jazz band II is a great place to get started to understand jazz literature more. Jazz ensemble requires an audition. The music there’s a lot more difficult, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for anyone trying to get into it,” said Bell. 

Thomas Smith is also a part of the jazz ensemble. Smith is a senior, and has played the clarinet since 4th grade and the saxophone since 5th grade. Smith is an experienced jazz musician who has been playing since middle school. “I always wanted to play the saxophone, and I know that it was affiliated with a jazz instrument. When I got to Julian I joined the jazz band and really liked it, so I decided to audition for jazz ensemble freshman year and I made it,” said Smith.

Smith also appreciates the productive environment that jazz ensemble has. “I think the fact that it’s really early in the morning means everyone comes ready to play, and we all really like playing instruments. Everyone wants to be good, and have the band sound good,” said Smith.

As of the date of publishing, OPRF’s next big jazz performances will be at Fitzgerald’s on March 8, and the annual swing dance on April 21 at the Century Club.