Skyview teens let their instruments do the talkin'

2006-02-02T23:00:00Z Skyview teens let their instruments do the talkin'ANGIE BUCKLEY Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
February 02, 2006 11:00 pm  • 

In the Skyview High band room at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, jazz is alive and well.

Actually, it's rip-roarin'.

Rather than be satisfied with the Bach-penned arrangements for orchestra, 18 students commit themselves to an extra dosage of high-school band. They see beyond the four-part harmonies demonstrating the skill of clarinet ensembles to the improvisation and blaring trumpet solos of Duke Ellington.

Jazz Band is the opportunity to play something better than what's written on the page; whereas, regular band is strictly by-the-books.

Tomorrow night, the Frostbite Winter Music Festival audience will be exposed to just how much these kids love jazz and how much of their soul is in it. Because, be sure, soul is in it.

It's been five years since Garret Seesing discovered his passion for jazz. He now writes music for the band in which he plays guitar, and one piece will be performed at the University of Idaho jazz festival next month.

The Jazz Band as a whole is cohesive — a freshman, sophomores, juniors and a senior fused together to form a joking, noisy, talented family that brings "band geekdom to a whole new level," says Tim Anderson, who plays tenor sax.

Rehearsals are laid back, and the relaxed strategy so far works. In the words of Seesing, conductor Larry Lynam gives the students music, they play it, he tells them what to work on, they work on it, then go back and play it better.

The priority, says Anderson, is to play as much as possible and have fun doing it.

Over the next month, the group will be playing as much as possible. The University of Idaho jazz festival features the best college and high-school jazz bands in the country, if not the world, Lynam said.

After Skyview's trip there, which will be the first for the school, several Jazz Band members will play in the pit orchestra for the school musical, "The Sound of Music," and added somewhere in the middle is the AA Band Fest in Great Falls, which will "probably be the most-educational event" the Jazz Band does all year, Lynam said.

Spending an hour with the Jazz Band, the energy that rises with the teasing, impromptu playing and discussions of jazz can leave a visitor excited to see the group play. When one of the musicians talks about how excited he is for the Moscow trip, another asks where Moscow is.

"We're going to Russia?"

Everyone laughs because the journey is just a state away in Idaho, and they tease their friend before someone mentions how their tight-knit ensemble has a rhythm that can't be duplicated by larger groups.

"We can feel what each other is going to do," explains Charlie Foran, the group's lone senior, while holding his trombone in a protective embrace.

But the important thing — are they good?

"We played at the Musical Feast, and I was told we sounded fantastic," Seesing offers.

The Jazz Band is looking forward to its two big gigs this spring, where members are expecting to sound just as fantastic.

There will be people in the audience besides their parents at Frostbite this year, and the band will be traveling with Senior High to Idaho.

For Sara-Beth Hawkins, the possibility of the presence of other girls is pretty exciting.

She's the only female included in Skyview's Jazz Band, but she deals with it. Seesing — whose long, curly hair is the wildest in the bunch — is a good replacement for another species of the fairer sex, she jabs.

The stories of how the musicians came to love jazz are varying and interesting.

Foran just always liked jazz, and, when the band program at Castle Rock Middle School enabled him to play more jazz as an eighth-grader, he knew he and his trombone had found their musical home.

Hawkins volunteered to play bass in junior high, something she'd never done. Previous attempts to play guitar failed, but something with the bass clicked.

Nathan Perius, a junior who plays baritone saxophone, said he hated regular band so the opportunity to do something else piqued his interest.

Trevor Brown's grandpa used to play his guitar for his grandson and play his "big, old records of jazz." Grandpa's influence urged Trevor's attraction to jazz, and the junior dances his fingers up and down the tenor sax keys on cue to demonstrate.

When Tyler Urlacher tried out for Jazz Band in junior high, he never expected to make the cut. But he did, forcing him to buy his first drum set so he could practice.

The stories might not be the hard-luck stories of the students' heroes, such as Hank Jones who visited the school this year, but they might be the explanations given when these musicians talk about their love of jazz as composers, night-club musicians and band instructors.

Just give them a decade or two, and they might be part of rebirthing jazz music for their generation.

After all, why not?

As Brown says, "We've got nothing better to do."

Contact Angela Buckley at abuckley@billingsgazette.com or 657-1241.

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