Jazz band jams way to competitions

Musicians are gearing up for upcoming performances.

By: Joseph Harvie
   They come into school an hour early three days a week and transform a chorus room into a rehearsal space for a 32-piece jazz band.
   At the Crossroads South school in Monmouth Junction, the school’s Jazz Band is in high gear and practicing hard for upcoming performances at Willingboro High School and Hershey Park later this year, and they just received a superior rating at the Nottingham High School Jazz Band Competition on Jan. 29.
   The competition hosted 11 jazz bands, five of which were middle schools and six of which were high schools.
   "Out of all the 11 bands that performed, only two superior rating were given out," Middle School Music Chairman John Ketterer said.
   The other band to receive the superior rating was Willingboro Middle School.
   Under the direction of Mr. Ketterer and Don Strosz the band’s rigorous work ethic and drive have paid off.
   "I was happy for them," Mr. Ketterer said. "Even if they hadn’t won, I know how well they play, and they know how hard they work. I’m just glad they had a wonderful experience."
   The band received the superior rating from three judges, which included a Princeton University jazz professor, a Rider University music professor and director of a Lakewood based jazz band.
   On Wednesday, the band ran through the set it played at Nottingham, performing "New York, New York," "All the Way" and "Brazil."
   The jazz band went through the tune with ease, sounding well prepared and well rehearsed. Horn players would come down from the risers to perform duets and solos throughout the song and when they finished they would take a bow and return to their spot on the risers.
   Gopal Narsimhamurthy, 13, received recognition as an outstanding soloist for his saxophone solo during "New York, New York" at the January competition.
   "It was great! My training paid off," said Gopal. "I like being in jazz band because it’s a more fun kind of music and it’s a small group."
   The next tune in the band’s set was, "All the Way," but before starting the song, Mr. Ketterer reminded the band, "Trombones you’re going to take it off, saxes keep it smooth."
   The tune is a smooth jazz piece and personal favorite of trumpet player, seventh-grader Calvin Gohld.
   "I like the song because it’s a slow jazz song and it’s real fun to play," Calvin, 13, said.
   The last song the band played was "Brazil," a more up-tempo tune that filled the corridors of Crossroads South with a thick brass sound. The tune is a favorite of stand-up bassist Kristen Lettenbergen, 14.
   "I like Brazil because there is a lot going on and it’s faster," said Kristen, an eighth grader.
   The directors were pleased with the band’s performance and said they are working on new songs for upcoming competitions and performances.
   "Generally we go out and pick music that will inspire the students and we pick music that is above their level and so they practice harder and become better musicians," Mr. Ketterer said.
   Mr. Ketterer did express concern about finding competitions for the band.
   "There aren’t too many middle school jazz band competitions out there and it is hard to get middle school jazz bands into high school competitions," Mr. Ketterer said. "These guys are better than most high school bands and high school directors don’t like that."
   The band is preparing for a next competition in May at the Willingboro Middle School and a much larger competition in Hershey Park, Pa., in June. The 32 members in the Jazz Band will be among the nearly 1,000 students from the district who will attend this overnight competition.
   "We did well at Nottingham, I hope we win in Hershey Park," enthusiastic eight-grader Kristen Lettenbergen, 14, said.