Students perform a jazz concert at the Alton Middle School cafeteria.
ALTON — The sounds ranged from Sinatra to Slash, Duke to Chick.
On a chilly spring evening in April, the Alton Middle School cafeteria heated up with the sounds of jazz. Instructor Tim Jarden has been “bringing this concert together for about 25 years,” instructor Ken King said.
Jazz is a real labor of love for these two teachers, but as Tim Jarden likes to point out, “The emphasis is on the kids. They are the ones who deserve the credit, not me.”
Jazz band is an extracurricular activity in the Alton School District. The middle school jazz band rehearses before school on Wednesdays and the high school jazz band rehearses after school the same day. King declared April 6 to be Jazz Day in Alton schools.
Students are not only challenged to play a different style of music in the jazz program; they are also taught to improvise or make up their own melody for a solo part. It forces the band to listen to the soloist, keep the chord changes going under their solo and return to the written melody on cue from the director or band leader. Jazz influences find their way into so many styles of music that the instructors have the flexibility to choose from a wide catalog. When introducing the Alton Middle School jazz band, King said they were debuting a new piece of music this year called “Deacon Jack’s Gospel Shack.”
“We were able to buy this music because of Alton Band and Orchestra Builders,” he said. “It’s a swinging number that we are really excited about.”
AMS jazz band played “Deacon Jack’s Gospel Shack,” “Alright, Okay, You Win” and “Rocky Road.”
Alton High School has two jazz bands. The Jazz Combo is a more stripped-back group featuring two guitars, bass and drums forming the rhythm section for trumpet and flugelhorn, alto and soprano sax, and trombone. This group also is the program’s ambassadors, playing out frequently in the community. They performed such pieces as Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train,” Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” and the Kenny Dorham tune “Blue Bossa.”
The focus then shifted to a large band (because they are technically not a “big band”). The AHS jazz band treated the audience to Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon,” Chick Corea’s “Spain,” Guns and Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” as well as “Bye, Bye Blackbird” and “Federal Blues Express.”
Alton Band and Orchestra Builders President Amy Hillery addressed the crowd, thanking everyone for their dedication to getting students to and from rehearsals, all the volunteer time, and help in fundraising. She was impressed by the quality of the bands and said the school district is so lucky to have such dedicated instructors in the program. King and Jarden are both alumni of the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville music program and multi-instrumentalists fluent in guitar, bass and brass.
An upcoming fundraiser for the program is an event from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, May 16, at Elijah P’s, 401 Piasa St. in Alton. The event will feature Jarden and King’s combo, the Third Coast Jazz and Blues Band. A portion of each sale will go to benefit Alton Band and Orchestra Builders. For information, visit http://www.abob.net.