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District 518 jazz bands to perform Friday at WMS

The 30-member WHS Jazz Band, directed by Jon Loy, participated in the 44th annual Head of the Lakes Jazz Festival in Duluth, earning the top-ranking “excellent” award for their performance. The WHS and WMS jazz bands will combine for the ISD 518 Jazz Night at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the WMS gymnasium. (Special to the Daily Globe)1 / 2
Bruce Obermann, a 1968 graduate of Worthington High School and a Minnesota All State Band percussionist in his youth, will be a guest percussionist at Friday's District 518 Jazz Night. (Special to the Daily Globe)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — The Worthington High School (WHS) Jazz Band will play to the beat of a different drummer for part of its set at Friday evening’s ISD 518 Jazz Night, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the Worthington Middle School (WMS) gymnasium.

Fear not: guest percussionist Bruce Obermann may be older than the other 30 musicians in the group, but he’s still one of them.

A 1968 WHS alumnus who was a Minnesota All State Band percussionist in his youth, Obermann went on to wield his musical skills at Southwest State University, Marshall, before playing for five years with the most elite bands of the U.S. Air Force, among them the USAF Noteables and the USAF Diplomats.

“I have fond memories of my time in high school, and it’s exciting for me to be able to contribute to young musicians and help them develop in their abilities,” said Obermann, whose father Bob (his mother Betty is now deceased) and brother Brian still reside in Worthington.

Before the WHS Jazz Band, as well as the 26 members of this season’s WMS jazz groups, demonstrate their cool tunes Friday night, Obermann will have had the chance to work with at least some of the students.

“The kids will really benefit from his presence, and from his working knowledge of not just percussion but his approach to all different jazz styles in the rhythm section,” said Jon Loy, director of the WHS jazz ensemble.

“He’s going to offer a percussion master class on Thursday afternoon and work with the entire jazz band after school that day.”

Obermann spent countless hours in the former WHS band room under the tutelage of the late WHS band director Glenn Evensen. At Friday’s gig, Obermann will sit in with the 2017 WHS jazz group on at least one number, as well as perform an extended solo on the drum set — his percussion specialty.

The WHS Jazz Band is fresh off a successful trip to northeast Minnesota, where they participated on Saturday in the 44th annual Head of the Lakes Jazz Festival at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. The festival included 21 groups from high schools across Minnesota, plus a few from northwest Wisconsin.

There, the ensemble earned an “excellent” rating (the festival’s highest ranking), and two of its musicians — senior bass player J.R. Arnt and junior vocalist Stephanie Lowry — were named Outstanding Soloists.

“We had an on-stage session with guest clinicians at the festival, and each student musician attended a special clinic specific to their section,” Loy noted. “The saxophones, for instance, were with 60 other saxophonists, and everyone got to experience an evening jazz concert focused on music of the Big Band/swing era.”

Now in its 10th year of featuring spring “jazz nights” that combine WMS and WHS jazz musicians, this Friday’s performance will focus on a different style of literature than what the ISD 518 students might otherwise play in their marching or concert band settings.

“We’ll perform our festival competition set, as well as some other fun tunes just for jazz night — ‘Theme from Hawaii Five-O,’ ‘Gospel John’ and an arrangement of ‘Poker Face,’” listed Loy.

“Jazz band involves a smaller group than what we have in our full band, so each music stand plays an extra important role in the success of the group’s overall sound.”

Mike Andersen, director of the WMS jazz bands, says his eight-member sixth grade group will perform the intriguingly titled “Tyrannosaurus Charlie” and “Hog’s Breath Café,” both by composer Dean Sorenson.

Andersen’s seventh- and eighth-grade jazz crew, which numbers 18 musicians, is set to share Monty Norman’s “James Bond 007” and Sorenson’s “Into the Sun.” The three WMS grade levels will combine later in the program to deliver Herbie Hancock’s classic “Watermelon Man.”

With an enthusiastic guest artist in Obermann, and the added fact that March is “Music in Our Schools Month,” Loy and Andersen are hoping the public will turn out to enjoy the music their student jazz ensembles have prepared.

“Music offers something positive we can all relate to, and it enriches our lives,” reminded Loy. “Kids involved in music are not just pressing ‘play’ but are creating an emotional connection that everyone needs.

“Student musicians also learn to work as a team, and music contributes to a well-rounded education.”

From his vantage point as a lifelong musician, Obermann concurs with Loy’s points.

“I thought I’d become a music teacher, but the military got me instead,” laughed Obermann, who has owned a commercial contract cleaning company in the Twin Cities for the past 25 years while maintaining music as his primary avocation.

“But I still teach private lessons all the time and play professionally in the Twin Cities area with big bands and small jazz groups. Music allows you to express yourself and be creative, and it’s extended through my whole life.

The ISD 518 Jazz Night, featuring student jazz groups from Worthington Middle and High Schools, takes place at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the Worthington Middle School gymnasium. The concert is free and open to the public.

“It’s something you can do and love until you drop over.”

The ISD 518 Jazz Night, featuring student jazz groups from Worthington Middle and High Schools, takes place at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the Worthington Middle School gymnasium. The concert is free and open to the public.

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