George-Little Rock Jazz Band Bound for state

GEORGE, Iowa -- For the second year in a row, the George-Little Rock High School Jazz Band will make its way to the Iowa Jazz Championships in Des Moines.

GEORGE, Iowa -- For the second year in a row, the George-Little Rock High School Jazz Band will make its way to the Iowa Jazz Championships in Des Moines.

The band earned the trip as a wild card after placing third in the northwest Iowa district in Class 1A. G-LR band director Jay Downie learned of the school's qualification on Sunday.

Sixty bands from across the state will take part in the annual jazz competition April 18 at the Des Moines Convention Complex. The top two bands in each of Iowa's six districts are automatically entered in the competition, with three bands from each district earning a wild-card spot.

G-LR will compete in Class 1A, a ranking based on the number of students enrolled in ninth through 11th grade in the school. Iowa is made up of four classes, from 1A to 4A.

The school's jazz band competed in Class A last year, but that category was eliminated prior to the 2005-2006 school year to put the band program more in line with those used for sports competitions.


The class change provided for some stiffer competition, he said, adding that the move doubled the school's competition. This year, G-LR was among 150 bands across the state to compete in Class 1A.

Downie, in his fifth year of leading the band program in the G-LR school district, said the jazz band has four numbers in its repertoire that it performs in competition, including a swing tune, ballad, a Latin piece and an Irish number.

"I try to focus on our strengths, and this year that happens to be our saxophone section," he added.

Students have been practicing the pieces since school began last September. Jazz band practices three times for a week, with a 7 a.m. rehearsal on Thursdays and a 45-minute class each Tuesday and Thursday. Downie said he'd like to schedule more morning practices for the band, but can't because of student conflicts with sports activities.

The G-LR Jazz Band boasts 20 members, Downie said. He said he had to scrape to get that many students to join in such a small school.

"Right now, if a kid is interested in jazz band, they're basically in," he said. "I'd like to have more of a selection process."

Typically, jazz band consists of a smaller group of about 20 members because of the difficulty in getting everyone to play in tune.

"Most judges like set numbers -- five playing saxophone, five trombones, five trumpets and then a rhythm section of drums, piano and bass," said Downie, who was a drummer in jazz band throughout his high school and college career.


Last year, G-LR earned second place in the Iowa Jazz Championships, a ranking that put Downie on the selection committee to choose this year's wild-card performers. Though Downie said his position on the committee did not make G-LR a shoo-in for the state show this year, it also didn't hurt.

"It was a fair process," he said.

Competition for jazz bands in Iowa typically begins in January, after members have had a few months to work together on their songs.

"The jazz band does go to quite a few festivals," Downie said, adding that they competed at the Iowa Lakes Jazz Festival in January and performed Tuesday at the University of South Dakota Jazz Festival in Vermillion.

Despite the challenges in getting students to enroll in G-LR's band program, Downie said he likes his role in the school district.

"I like all aspects of music education -- concert, pep, marching and jazz," he said. "That's why I like teaching in a small school -- I get to teach various bands, whereas if I taught in a larger high school, I might just have jazz band."

The G-LR Jazz Band will present its four show numbers, along with a selection of pop tunes and other numbers, during a public performance at the George High School gymnasium March 31 and April 1. The annual Swing Show will begin at 7:30 p.m. each night, and will include performances by the swing choir as well. Tickets will be available at the door and can also be reserved by calling the high school office.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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