Jazz. The word evokes a variety of images, from smoky bars in Paris to speakeasies in Chicago. Jazz is a broad word that encompasses many genres, including blues, free jazz, and swing. Each has their own distinct sounds and rhythms. At Cactus Shadows, Jazz band is a class where students can learn the basics of jazz, explore different styles on their instruments of choice, and compete in local, state, and even national competitions.
“There are just so many different styles that are under the umbrella of jazz and so definitely learning how to play different styles and memorizing them is a huge challenge,” said Daniel Shepy, a senior percussionist in Jazz band.
Last year, the Jazz band went to two state competitions, the Area Jazz Festival in Willow Canyon and the State Jazz Festival at Mesa Community College. At both events, the band received Excellent ratings.
Johnny Cramner, a junior guitarist in Jazz band, describes what happens at competitions, “So we go perform our set, we get judged while our sets being performed, and then afterwards there’s like an hour where we work with one of the judges and they make us sound not bad. After, we go home, then we get a score and we get notes, recorded audio of the judges. We use that to get better.”
The most important pieces in the music-making process are the instruments. Jazz music employs a variety of instruments, which are split into the rhythm section and the horn section. The rhythm section includes percussion, guitar, bass and piano, and the horn section includes trombones, trumpets, and saxophones.
”[The rhythm section] is probably the most important section in a jazz band because, without any rhythm section, your horns just don’t have the same feel. The horns kind of accent what the rhythm section does, and without a rhythm section it’ll get a little bit boring sometimes,” said Kevin Brady, Music teacher and Director of Jazz band.
One thing jazz compositions are known for are solos. Solos are improvised pieces of music that are created on the spot by the player. During a solo, the goal of the musician is to keep the improvised piece in line with the music they are already playing, and to get the audience’s attention.
“A couple bars before [a] solo, I start thinking about what I’m going to do. I think about the style of the piece and what’s stylistically correct, and then I just kind of go at it,” said Shepy.
The Jazz band is currently prepping for their competition at this year’s Area Jazz Festival, which takes place March 10th.