Members of WHHS’ Jazz Band practice their craft. Both the Jazz Ensemble Band and the Jazz Lab Band will be performing in the WHHS Auditorium on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. (Margaret Wealer/ REM)
Members of WHHS’ Jazz Band practice their craft. Both the Jazz Ensemble Band and the Jazz Lab Band will be performing in the WHHS Auditorium on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m.

Margaret Wealer/ REM

Jazz program bellows into the forefront of WHHS’ art scene

February 14, 2020

When one thinks of WHHS’ Fine Arts offerings in terms of its music program, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not the jazz program. It’s smaller than other programs and does not hold the same traditional spot in the American high school psyche as marching band or theater. Jazz in this way is atypical, yet simultaneously it’s in the music’s distinct brassy sounds and rhythmic freedom where many WHHS students have found greater artistic purpose.  

WHHS has two jazz bands: the larger Jazz Ensemble Band and the smaller, more versatile Jazz Lab Band. Each one plays distinct pieces meant for bands of their respective sizes.  The Jazz Ensemble band plays music in the “big band” style. Likewise, the Jazz Lab band plays in what is called a “combo band.” 

Despite their different jazz traditions, both bands perform together in their concerts, the soonest of which is in the WHHS Auditorium on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m.

While t he classes are designed for students who already have experience with an instrument, jazz provides a radical new take on music in comparison to more traditional genres.  For many WHHS musicians, jazz was the first time music really exhilarated them. Saxophone player, SENIOR Edgar Byars, explained that jazz excited him in a way other genres never could. 

“I found out [jazz] sounded good, But I didn’t really know before what it actually was like,” Byars said. Jazz was not his entrance into music, but anyone who has heard Byars play can tell he has flourished in focusing on jazz.

Jazz and music, in general, gave me freedom.”

— SENIOR Jack Early

When asked how he would advise young musicians on the fence about exploring jazz, Byars says, “listen a little bit every day, just like maybe 15 minutes.” Byars emphasizes focusing on the music and how it all flows together beyond just casual listening. 

Among the jazz musicians, there is a general consensus on the freedom jazz gives them.  Jazz is not formulaic – there is room to explore. SENIOR bass player, Jack Early, emphasizes this in explaining his own relationship with the language of music. “Jazz and music, in general, gave me freedom,” Early said.  

Early, who plans to study music in college with a concentration in jazz performance, has gained much experience from the music program, playing in a variety of WHHS’ bands and taking AP Music Theory. For a school where academics is the focus, hearing WHHS’ jazz band reminds us of our continual commitment to the arts and rising to the highest in more than just literature and physics.

There is great comradery among WHHS’ jazz musicians. Many of the musicians play together outside of school or experiment with their genre during lunch bells or other odd times in the day, but that is just keeping in tune with the creative nature of the program. Guitar player Ben Troyer, ‘21, sums up its inventive spirit in saying that his favorite part of being a jazz musician is “just getting to play my guitar at school.” WHHS’ jazz musicians repeatedly show an endless desire to improve their craft and to have fun while doing so.

It’s an American art form and it’s an art form that also was created and kind of grew in minority communities.”

— Andrew Peoples

Each musician has their favorite pieces to play and perhaps, more importantly, their jazz inspirations. For Troyer, his favorite piece is “So What” by Miles Davis, a piece he regularly practices with some of his friends in the Jazz Lab Band. In practicing the music of jazz greats, they study the genre’s tradition so that when they return to the stage they can tie the music’s historic tradition with their own contemporary invention. They create art with an eye on tradition.

Andrew Peoples, the teacher for both jazz bands, emphasizes jazz’s distinctly American essence. “It’s an American art form and it’s an art form that also was created and kind of grew in minority communities,” Peoples said.  It’s only fitting that in a school that celebrates diversity and examines our nation’s multifaceted cultural legacy that high school musicians draw our attention. WHHS’ jazz students do not fret their opportunity to wow their peers.

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