REGIONAL—The West Lyon High School jazz band heads to the Iowa Jazz Championships on Tuesday, April 5, after placing first in each of their competitions so far this year.
“It’s exciting, especially for the kids, and especially when there hasn’t been a jazz championship for the past few years,” said West Lyon band manager Drew Balta.
Class 2A West Lyon is one of four jazz bands from N’West Iowa that will perform at the championships, which will be held at Iowa State University in Ames.
Other area sets that will perform are Class 1A South O’Brien, Class 2A Okoboji and Class 3A MOC-Floyd Valley.
The statewide jazz showcase has not taken place since 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Balta said the cancellations in 2020 and 2021 were disappointing for his jazz students in those years.
“I said to the children last night: ‘You kind of play for the group of students from the west of Lyon who haven’t had the opportunity to go for the last two years because of the pandemic who stopped everything, “Balta said on Friday, March 1. 25.
West Lyon took part in five competitions this year, starting with the Triton Jazz Festival in January in Fort Dodge where the ensemble placed first out of 18 groups. The band also played at the Iowa Lakes Jazz Festival in Estherville that month. In February, the Wildcats performed at Morningside University in Sioux City, Coe College in Cedar Rapids, and the Northwest Iowa Bandmasters Association District Jazz Competition in LeMars.
The group repertoire for the championships will be:
- “Tall Cotton”, by Count Basie.
- Sugar Hill Penthouse by Duke Ellington.
- “Work Song”, by Nat Adderley.
- “Softly as the morning sunrise”, by Sigmund Romberg.
Where West Lyon had a season of first-place wins, MOC-Floyd Valley saw one filled with second-place finishes.
Nonetheless, jazz band manager Matthew Honken and his 21 jazz musicians are happy to have achieved their goal of qualifying for the championships for the first time in four years.
“None of these current high schoolers that we have right now have left,” Honken said. “We went in 2018, that would have been their eighth grade year.”
MOC-Floyd Valley took second place in several contests this year, including Iowa Lakes, Morningside, and the district festival. The band earned a “top” Division I rating at the Iowa High School Music Association‘s state festival on their home turf in Orange City. The band also traveled to Coe College to perform at a festival there, but did not make the top three.
Honken students will perform these tunes at the championships:
- “Change in Time”, by Sammy Nestico.
- “Sepia Panorama”, by Duke Ellington.
- “A Time for Love” by Johnny Mandel.
- “Black Orpheus” by Luiz Bonfa.
Honken said his students have experienced “tremendous growth” from the start of the competitive season to entering the championships.
“The kids really stepped up and did a wonderful job learning music really well,” he said.
The MOC-Floyd Valley principal also expressed his appreciation for how school administrators supported the jazz band and allowed the band to travel so much for the season. He is also grateful for the help that the school’s other band manager, Dan Mangold, has given to improve the jazz band’s playing.
Okoboji Jazz Band manager James Kunz is looking forward to continuing his school’s long tradition of performing at the Iowa Jazz Championships. The Pioneers jazz ensemble has been a fixture at the championships every year since 1995.
Kunz is in his second year as group manager. He recalled how the previous school where he ran jazz qualified for the championships in 2020 but was unable to attend due to COVID-19.
“I’m really looking forward to getting out there and seeing what it’s all about,” Kunz said.
He said his 18 musicians this year have been “really rewarding to work with” and have come a long way in their playing ability since the start of the college year.
Okoboji’s set will include these songs:
- “Bop of the World” by Jeff Jarvis.
- “Widow’s Walk” by Dan Gailey.
- “I let a song come out of my heart”, by Duke Ellington.
South O’Brien High School is continuing its own state championship qualifying streak, as the jazz band has been a guest at the festival every year since 2015.
“It’s good to know that they achieved their goal,” said Rebecca Meyer, director of the South O’Brien freshman group.
“It was something they wanted from day one. When I made them set goals, that was one of them: they wanted to get back to the championships.
The jazz ensemble’s repertoire for the season consists of these songs:
- “Groovin’ Hard” by Don Menza.
- “Round Midnight” by Cootie Williams and Thelonious Monk.
- “Children of Sanchez” by Chuck Mangione.