Jazzing it up
The sounds of a bass guitar, keyboard, cowbell, tambourine and drums fill the McMath Middle School band hall as the school’s jazz ensemble plays “Jammin’ With Charlie.”
Nearly every student in the 20-piece McMath Tiger Jazz Band is tapping his or her foot.
This particular week, the group attempts to create an authentic sound similar to the band Earth, Wind & Fire.
Though the ensemble is made up of young students, its collective sound is far beyond its years.
What sets them apart is the maturity and authentic style in which they play music, band director Travis Harris said.
“I would describe my band’s sound as very, very mature for a junior high band,” he said. “Most people … just cannot believe they’re a junior high band.
“They don’t sound like young kids playing it; they sound like young professionals.”
In September, those “young professionals” were named the national champions in the middle school jazz ensemble category of the 2012 Mark of Excellence National Jazz Honors Project.
Sponsored by the Foundation for Music Education, the national competition recognizes high school and middle school jazz ensembles for outstanding achievement in performance.
The Denton school board intends to recognize the McMath group during its Oct. 23 meeting.
Harris said he submitted to the competition a recording of the band’s May performance at the University of North Texas’ Murchison Performing Arts Center.
“I just had no idea we were going to win the whole thing,” he said. “It’s unexpected. I never expected anything like this.
“I just push the kids to be the best they can be. To have someone recognize our work is flattering.”
David McCullar, the Denton school district’s fine arts director, calls the recognition “a prestigious honor” for McMath and the entire district.
“We have had in Denton ISD commended winners before in our high school groups, … but this is the first time we’ve ever had a group picked a national winner in a category,” McCullar said. “I’m extremely proud of the group.”
Eighth-grade tenor saxophone player Dekise Tellis said he’s amazed by the national recognition.
“I went … berserk,” he said of learning the jazz band had earned a national championship. “I was running around the house.”
The jazz band at McMath Middle School was established about four years ago. In that time, the group has fared well in competitions.
“This jazz band that we’ve put together here has never received anything less than a first-division [rating] from a judge, … which is impressive,” Harris said.
David Steward, an eighth-grade percussionist, said that when he enters the band hall for jazz rehearsal, he can’t wait “to get better” at the music and just have fun.
“It’s one of my favorite [class] periods,” he said. “It’s fun for me and I just like it a lot.”
The jazz band class is 11 minutes shorter than other classes. The students meet during a 40-minute advisory period, a class generally designated for students to get their grades up to par. Those whose grades aren’t up to par are sent to that class for help, Harris said.
“I wish we had more time,” he tells the group with two minutes remaining in a Thursday class.
Although it’s a shorter class period, the students say they put a lot of dedication into the time they have.
For these students, being a part of the jazz band is about more than just the music.
“It’s like our family,” said Peyton Dunworth, an eighth-grade trombone player. “This wouldn’t happen if we didn’t all contribute our part.
“We don’t play because we have to; we want to. It’s fun. We all enjoy it.”
As a winning jazz ensemble, the McMath Tiger Jazz Band will be included on a compilation CD of the Mark of Excellence winners. The group is expected to receive a trophy and a critique of its performance, as well as recognition in various publications and at conventions.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .