3 January, 2022
In what once was once a quiet room before students entered, it is filled with the sounds of students noodling and warming up on their instrument, whether it’s the blaring trumpets or the booming drums. People talk with anticipation and excitement in their voice. Mr. Posner then sits down in his stool, and the band falls silent. Jazz is back at Atholton.
Past jazz bands were not successful due to a lack of members and performances, but this year is proving different and band director Mr. Posner has hopes. A total of 29 students have signed up, and a performance for the end of the year has already been planned.
“I’m encouraged that we had so many students signed up this year and hope it will lead us back to having a more permanent presence in our school,” Mr. Posner said.
The last official jazz band was formed in 2017, which contained only 8 students. Rather than being considered a full jazz band, it was a “combo” band, a smaller version of a full jazz band. Despite the small band size and no performances, the students enjoyed it. Since 2017, there have been one or two student-run jazz band clubs at Atholton with similar results: no performances, but a positive response from the members of the band. Another organized jazz band to give attention to is the county-wide jazz bands, which were formed over quarantine. In this set up, students met virtually, and performed in one of three jazz bands based on skill level.
“This was a great opportunity to just enjoy jazz together during a difficult isolation, and to do it with students from various schools was a great way to share our love and enjoyment of this genre,” Mr. Posner described. “I think it was very successful for what it was. The purpose was to keep interest alive and provide an outlet for students to socialize and learn.”
While the past jazz bands were successful, it lacked the people. It seemed that not many people were interested in being in a jazz band. However, it is proving easier to get members this year than in the past.
Now that there is a large active jazz band, they plan to perform at a county-wide jazz festival at the Chrysalis amphitheater by Merriweather, run by the county. If this does not happen, they will be hosting their own show at Atholton. Both of these events will take place on April 29th.
There are many challenges to forming a jazz band. Mr. Posner explained that the biggest challenge was finding students that were available. One of these students was Anna Beer, who explained how she did not have enough time due to doing band for the Spring Musical. Another challenge mentioned was finding songs that fit this large group.
“Traditionally, a ‘big band’ will have a rhythm section, saxophones, trombones, and trumpets.” Mr. Posner explained. “In order to serve more students and encourage a jazz experience, we’re expanding to let anyone in (flutes, clarinets, etc.) and so choosing repertoire that fits all instruments can also be challenging to find. But again, this year I’m really encouraged and I think it’s going to be great.”
Students that signed up are also very excited, such as Atholton junior Austin Adaranijo. He plays french horn in Atholton’s wind ensemble, however, he plans on playing saxophone for this jazz band. He said that he had been doing jazz band since middle school, along with the jazz band that took place during quarantine, both of which he enjoyed.
“Mr. Posner is big on teaching,” he said. “We did it online with a bunch of other schools and they were teaching about jazz history and playing a certain way. I’m excited to learn about that, and I’m also excited to just get to play stuff other than typical band music.”
All of the horn players were taken from Atholton’s band classes, but jazz also consists of instruments that are not typically found in these classes, such as piano, bass, and guitar. For these instruments, Mr. Posner sent out a Canvas announcement, asking players of these instruments to join. One of these players was guitarist Isaiah Celestin, who also had been part of jazz bands in middle school and a student-formed jazz band in 2019. He said how jazz was one of his favorite genres to play on guitar, and how he was glad to have the opportunity to play with other people.
Jazz is known as a very unique genre due to its structure and rise to popularity. Mr. Posner explained how it is different from a lot of typical music studied in band classes, most of which are influenced by European classical music. Unlike this music, jazz is known for its roots in African American culture. Mr. Posner emphasized jazz’s roots, which are from many different places from across the globe such as Africa, South America, and Cuba.
“Jazz is a truly unique artform that showcases what can happen when cultures come together,” he stated.
Jazz is a genre built around improvisation, which Mr. Posner believes to be a vital part to being a musician. He emphasized how improvisation is a musician’s way of expressing who they are through their instrument. “Great improvisers make it seem like their instrument is just another appendage of their body,” said Mr. Posner. “They create music like they can move their arm or leg. It’s natural.”
Adaranijo explained how some musicians are hesitant about jazz. “It’s just how you should enjoy any type of art. It’s not for everyone, but you can’t knock it until you try it,” he says. “Like, some classical musicians will turn their nose up to jazz when they really never tried to improvise. You definitely have to try it.”
Despite the mostly positive response from musicians, other students that are not musicians may not be as interested in jazz. The members of the jazz band explained how jazz is in a lot of popular music.
“I feel like people really undermine jazz’s actual influence on all sorts of other genres of music, and how certain jazz techniques are actually incorporated into that, in a lot of big songs, especially,” Isaiah Celestin expressed.
Mr. Posner also said how students, whether musicians or not, should approach jazz with an open mind. He also highlighted jazz’s influences in many of today’s genres.
“There is something being said in jazz, both written and improvised, that everyone can connect with,” he described. “There’s happiness, sadness, excitement, confusion, and a huge range of emotions that everyone will find something that they connect to. Jazz has influenced genres of rock, pop, country, and even rap and hip-hop. Jazz can be found everywhere.”