IC West jazz bands find success at Jazz in the Meadows Festival

West’s Jazz Ensemble was named Overall Grand Champion of the competition.

On Saturday, February 29th, the West High Jazz Ensemble was awarded the grand champion trophy for its competition in the Jazz in the Meadows Midwestern jazz festival in Rolling Meadows, Illinois.

Paras Bassuk The West High Jazz Ensemble and Symphonic Jazz Band travel to Chicago for their tri on Friday morning.

As a part of their biennial Chicago trip, the Symphonic Jazz Band and Jazz Ensemble participated in the 35th anniversary of this festival. Throughout the day, over 100 combos and big bands from 60 midwest schools compete in brackets defined by school population. As the day goes on, the winners of each of these classes are chosen to perform one piece in the finale performance to determine the overall champion of the festival.

On the morning of the competition, the members of both jazz bands roused early to pack up a bus and drive from a Chicago hotel to Rolling Meadows High School. As the bus ride went on, the excitement built. In anticipation of the upcoming performances, band members were getting ready to maintain their stamina for a long day of playing.

I love the music, but the group dynamic in our ensemble is so fun and special.”

— Ethan Buck '21

“I enjoy a lot of things about jazz band, but I think I enjoy the community the most,” said alto sax player Ethan Buck ’21, “No doubt, I love the music, but the group dynamic in our ensemble is so fun and special.”

Each performance required all hands on deck to help transport large instruments and stands from one performance location to another. After Symphonic Band’s successful performance in the second band category, it was time for Jazz Ensemble to prepare. Constant action made the day fly by, and before they knew it, it was time to perform.

West High WeeklyThe Jazz Ensemble, directed by Rich Medd, performs in the finals at Rolling Meadows High School.

After all the bands in the 2A class had played, it was announced that West High Jazz Ensemble had won the 2A spot in the final round.

Leading up to the final performance, the band had a decision to make. In the final round, each of the four bands must choose one of their three songs to perform.

After some discussion with the director, Rich Medd, the band unanimously decided to play a ballad titled “Skylark.” This decision was not made without risk. Most finale performances consist of each band playing their fastest, most technically impressive tunes for the judges to hear. Jazz Ensemble, on the other hand, had chosen a slower, lyrical, solo-based song.

West doesn’t participate solely to win … Because of this, I think we played with a different intent than the rest of the finalist bands.”

— Ethan Buck '21

This choice was made on the basis of the group’s value of musicality over competition.

“I would say that, in comparison to other bands at these competitions, West doesn’t participate solely to win. In fact, before our final performance, most of us were confident we wouldn’t win. Because of this, I think we played with a different intent than the rest of the finalist bands,” said Buck.

Motivated by artistic expression and enjoyment of the music, the band performed very well. An emotional feature of the band’s alto saxophonist and pianist, “Skylark” was hugely successful in drawing emotion out of the music.

“We stepped outside of what we thought could win and played a piece that really showed our strengths and made an impact on the judges,” said trumpet player Olivia Barker ’20.

We stepped outside of what we thought could win and played a piece that really showed our strengths and made an impact on the judges.”

— Olivia Barker '20

Secondary to this musical and emotional success was the score they received. The final results announced the Iowa City West High School Jazz Ensemble as the 2020 Grand Champions of the Jazz in the Meadows Festival.

Paras Bassuk The West High jazz bands on their way home from their successful competition in the Chicago area.

The win was celebrated by the band, but its greatest impact was on the confidence it gave to the members of the jazz program at West.

“It was really exciting to win because we are a pretty small school compared to those we were competing with. I’m also very proud that we won with a song that let us show off our musicality,” Barker said.

I’m also very proud that we won with a song that let us show off our musicality.”

— Olivia Barker '20

Many band members felt that the trophy was not the most important part of the night.

“It seems kind of pointless to me to compete over jazz or any other music for that matter…  the very nature of competing seems to undermine what music is all about,” Buck said. For him, the win solidified trust in the value of the enjoyment of playing music and its immense capacity for emotion.

The very nature of competing seems to undermine what music is all about.”

— Ethan Buck '21

After a long day, the bands were on their way back to Iowa City. With them, they brought a mature understanding of competition and the value of music. The Jazz bands will continue to compete this Spring, and look forward to their potential after a great start at Jazz in the Meadows.

If you are interested in hearing the Jazz Ensemble, Symphonic, and Varsity jazz bands perform, you can attend their concert in the auditorium at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, March 4.