Student-Led Jazz Band Brings Music to the Masses
Suggestions from the various members included Groovy Gang, Jazzpocalypse, and Broken Pencils.
“Our bassist is an incredible player, but he’s not the best at coming up with names,” Van Meter said with a laugh in a recent interview with Mitchell Republic.
Eventually, the Mitchell-based band opted for the name TriTones, a reference to an important musical interval in jazz music. The band have been performing under this name ever since while also bringing their jazz styles to the crowds at various events in the Mitchell community.
Local jazz combo TriTones featuring band members, from left, Christian Kremer, Jesse Dodd, Zachary Van Meter, Aiden Beckstrom and Drex Martinek perform on stage at Corn Palace Plaza during the Farmers Market final on Friday September 23. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Van Meter, a homeschooled junior who is the group’s main conductor, said the outfit had formed from the school’s jazz band as a way to continue playing music and d ‘avoid boredom during the summer. Besides Van Meter, who plays the trumpet, the TriTones are composed of Jesse Dodd on drums, Aiden Beckstrom on bass, Drex Martinek on trombone, Christian Kremer on tenor saxophone, Levi Gephard on alto saxophone, James Payne on trombone, Maddi Gerlach on piano and Ella Mutziger on guitar.
“We were all in a jazz band in eighth grade. And other than Jesse, we’re not great musicians and we all wanted to improve, ”Van Meter said. “When we started it was summer and the jazz band weren’t going, and we were all bored because we weren’t playing music. We wanted something to do.
The group got together and began to practice their craft, developing a sound that incorporated American jazz classics from Thelonius Monk and Duke Ellington as well as jazz arrangements from other non-jazz numbers, including Seven Nation Army from The White Stripes and Africa by Toto.
Playing jazz was a natural progression from their time in a jazz band, as this form of music is perfect for players interested in learning and studying improvisation.
Aiden Beckstrom of plays bass as the TriTones perform on stage at Corn Palace Plaza at the final Farmers Market on Friday September 23. (Matt Gade / Republic)
“The most important thing is freedom of expression. You can improvise. You can take liberties with the melody and other amazing stuff that you don’t get in a gig or in other genres. Jazz is about a lot more than people realize, ”Van Meter said.
The group meets up to three times a week in the Mitchell High School orchestra hall to practice, though they admit that their student schedules can sometimes conflict with their practice schedules. They strive to maintain social distancing and use the playable masks and bells that are required on school property.
It is during these practices that they work on their sound and the art of playing together as a unit, something that develops over time and grows with the familiarity of other players of a musician. Even for dedicated students, learning the ins and outs of jazz music can be a challenge.
“I wouldn’t say it comes naturally, per se, but everyone has that freedom in the sense that we feel comfortable with each other playing stuff like that. It comes with practice and having a framework of acceptance with others who are in the same boat, ”said Van Meter.
Drex Martinek, right, plays the trombone while joining the rest of his band, the TriTones, to perform on stage at Corn Palace Plaza during the final Farmers Market on Friday, September 23. (Matt Gade / Republic)
The group is run entirely by students with occasional help from teachers at Mitchell High School and Dakota Wesleyan University. Ryan Stahle, who leads the group at Mitchell High School and Bethany Amundson, principal and instructor at DWU, both provide advice and help with group organization when called upon.
“It’s actually a student-led group. My private tutoring teacher (Amundson), who works at DWU, helps me from time to time. And Ryan Stahle, he educates us all and is an amazing musician, helps us with things we don’t understand, ”Van Meter said.
But the majority of the organization of the group goes through Van Meter and his fellow musicians. They schedule their training. They reserve their performances. They choose their setlists.
The group had formed, practiced several acts and found a name. It only remained to transmit their love of jazz to an audience. Since their formation, the TriTones have performed at various events and fundraisers for local groups like CASA and the local farmer’s market. And while jazz music doesn’t necessarily dominate the charts like some other music genres, they found that people really enjoyed their performances.
Local jazz combo TriTones featuring band members, left to right, Jesse Dodd, Christian Kremer, Aiden Beckstrom, Zachary Van Meter and Drex Martinek perform on stage at Corn Palace Plaza at the latest Farmers Market on Friday September 23 (Matt Gade / Republic)
“It was great, a lot of positive feedback. People tell us it’s really great doing that and we love this music. It has been a very good response, ”said Van Meter.
Other representations are on the way. Van Meter said they are planning a show at Back 40 in the near future, and the group is also expected to perform at the school’s winter concert. The group was even invited to perform and present at a South Dakota Music Education Association reunion due to the student nature of the group.
“We received an offer from the SDMEA. They asked us to do a presentation at the meeting and play, ”Van Meter said. “It’s a bit of a unique thing. Almost no high school in South Dakota has fully student-led combos. “
As a group is made up of students still in high school, the future of the group is bound to change over the years. One member of the group will graduate this year, and a few more are expected for the same year next year. Van Meter said they are looking to establish the group as an entity that sees an ever-changing lineup of players as they progress through high school, ensuring that the TriTones will continue to make music even though the names and faces of the members change.
Drex Martinek plays the saxophone while the TriTones perform on stage at Corn Palace Plaza during the last Farmers Market on Friday September 23. (Matt Gade / Republic)
The search for future members is already underway, Van Meter said.
“Levi is the only one leaving us next year, but we have a freshman Mason Benzow who is not in the group right now. When Levi leaves, I want (Benzow) to kind of continue because a lot of us are juniors, a lot of us will be gone in two years. We want someone else to continue this combo because it’s a really cool thing going on in this high school, ”he said. Van Meter said.
Van Meter believes the tradition can continue. All it takes is for more high school musicians to discover the appeal of playing jazz and the joy of playing with friends and making music together.
Members of the local jazz combo TriTones have made a name for themselves performing at various events and fundraisers in the area. In the front row, from left to right, Jesse Dodd, Ella Mutziger, Maddi Gerlach and Zachary Van Meter. Last row are Aiden Beckstrom, James Payne, Christian Kremer, Drex Martinek and Levi Gephard. (Photo submitted)
“If you watch jazz and all that you can do in jazz, it’s not a hard thing to understand. It’s not something where every note has to be right or perfect, ”Van Meter said. “Jazz is where you make mistakes. If you can’t quite play or are in doubt, jazz is the perfect thing to start with. It’s such an open field to experiment with what you can do. It is a domain without limits.