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Jazz Bands Bring Swing to Schools

By Kathy Brown

(Feb. 12, 2018)  Do you like live jazz? Have you heard the Jazz Band at Haddam Killingworth High School? Four years ago they started a Jazz Band at Haddam Killingworth Middle School (for 7th and 8th graders) as well.

Tim D’Amato, Teacher of Instrumental Music at HKHS, told Haddam Now that Jazz was introduced into the music curriculum at HKHS in 1986, when it was offered as a class during the school day. The students learn various styles of jazz: swing, Latin, funk, ballad, and the blues; as well as learn about important musicians in Jazz history. The number of students fluctuates, but currently there are 30 students enrolled at HKHS. In previous years, the HKHS Jazz Band has traveled to numerous locations to perform including Disney World, Philadelphia, New York, and Toronto. Since 1991, they have been traveling to Boston to compete in the Berklee College of Music High School Jazz Ensemble Festival. Our Jazz Band often scores “Superior” or “Excellent” ratings at the competitions they attend. “Depending on the music festival, Superior and Excellent are the highest ratings ensembles can receive,” Mr. D’Amato explained.

In 2000, HKHS hosted its own Jazz Festival, which featured a performance by the Count Basie Orchestra, as well as bands from the other schools in the district.

Though there has been some jazz in the lower grades at an informal basis for the last ten years (from an after-school jazz band club to a summer camp), Jazz Band because an official class, meeting every other day, four years ago, according to Joel Spineti, the current teacher of the class at Haddam Killingworth Middle School. “Since this [formal] jazz band program began, there has been noticeable improvement in the quality of our musicians and in the transition process to the high school band,” said Mr. Spineti. “The jazz band also celebrates some of our most gifted students and find ways for these musicians to share their abilities with people beyond the walls of the middle school. We play at senior centers, in courtyards, and at festivals.”

The students are noticing the new program as well. “The audition process has become more competitive as the number of people interested in being part of this band increases,” noticed Mr. Spineti. “The better we get, the more other students want to be involved. It’s fun to be part of a successful organization.” Typically, 30-60 students who will be in 7th and 8th grade the following year audition for the slots available in June. The jazz band at the middle school reflects what a professional jazz ensemble would look like: two alto saxophones, two tenor saxophones, one baritone saxophone, four trumpets, four trombones, and a rhythm section (though those numbers can shift a little due to students involved). At the middle school level, they focus on swing, rock, and Latin.

Each year, the middle school jazz ensemble performs at the Music in the Parks Competition at Six Flags Amusement Park. For the last three years, they have come in first place. They have had first place soloists in each of those performances as well.

There are some notable students who graduated from the HK school district’s music department who continued their music career: Peter Bauer, HKHS Class of ’91, is a high school Instrumental Music Teacher in NJ, Matthew Westerholm, HKHS Class of ’93, is College Professor of Music and Worship in Illinois and Minnesota, and Adam Souza, HKHS Class of ’00, is a Music Director/Pianist for Broadway musicals and national tours.

If you hear about a jazz performance scheduled at the Haddam Killingworth Middle School or High School, go check them out. You’ll be glad you did.

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