Dam fine jazz
Ryan Summerlin April 26, 2013
It’s not true jazz until you take it out into the world and dirty it up with a bit of improv.
On Thursday at the Dillon Dam Brewery, the Summit High School jazz band will do just that, playing a free gig for anyone who wants to come and feel the vibrant rhythm of an iconic American music genre.
Linda Shea, Ph.D., is the director of all of the local high school bands, but the jazz band, composed mostly of juniors and seniors, holds a revered spot in the music program.
“We’re considered the premiere instrumental ensemble because it’s the most technically demanding – musically, rhythmically – and they have to learn how to improvise,” Shea said.
The jazz band gives students a chance to be more creative and challenged by the music, Shea said.
“They have to learn how to make up solos on the spot and in front of people,” she said. “It builds a sense of confidence and, with that, a sense of achievement directly related to the music they are playing. Even if they don’t go into music, no matter where they go, they can play in jazz groups and can continue playing in jazz groups the rest of their lives. It’s challenging, good for their brains, and it’s fun.”
The jazz band practices three times a week during school hours and features trumpets, saxophones, a rhythm section with guitar, drums and bass and event a violinist. Because the group is much smaller than the concert or symphonic bands, Shea said it’s easier to take it out into the community.
“It’s smaller and the music is accessible to all types of people of all ages,” she said. “We learn how to improvise using the 12-bar blues format, and then we try to pick swing tunes or blues tunes that give them opportunities to be featured as soloists.”
The students learn from guest musicians to see what it’s like to play side by side with professionals, starting with swing and blues and building upon that repertoire as the school year progresses.
“We try to learn different styles throughout the year that are offshoots of that, maybe rock and blues, and get into Latin jazz, basso nova, samba, jazz rock – some Santana-type sounds in that or Afro-Cuban jazz,” Shea said.
The jazz band will join the symphonic band, concert band and orchestra for a concert at Summit High on May 15, but for Thursday’s show, the jazz kids will fly solo. That gig, which is an annual tradition, will include mostly swing music, with some Latin jazz and blues.
“We play music that’s fun to dance to and that is rhythmically exciting,” Shea said. “The Dam Brewery is really gracious hosting us there; it gives the students a chance to see what it’s like to play gigs out in the community. … We try to get out there at least once a year to perform, and the community expects it and looks forward to it. It’s a really fun event.”