South O’Brien Jazz Band in the Groove at Ames | News


PAULLINA—It’s been about three decades since Rebecca Meyer competed in the Iowa Jazz Championships as a student.

Next month, however, the 1992 graduate of South O’Brien High School in Paullina will return to the festival as a jazz band instructor.

The South O’Brien Junior High School Jazz Ensemble is one of 15 Class 1A schools that will compete in the annual jazz competition, scheduled for Tuesday, April 5 at Iowa State University in Ames.

“It’s nice to know they achieved their goal,” Meyer said. “It was something they wanted from day one. When I made them set goals, that was one of them: they wanted to get back to the championships.

The Wolverines Jazz Ensemble has qualified for the Iowa Jazz Championships every year since 2015. This streak excludes 2020 and 2021, when the coronavirus pandemic canceled the event.

This year also marks the 13th time South O’Brien will compete in the championships since 2004.

“Thirteen is our magic number. He’s lucky number 13, that’s how I see him,” Meyer said.

The band’s performance slot is at 1:15 p.m. in the Scheman Building. The top eight groups in each class – 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A – will be announced at the awards ceremony in the afternoon. Then the top two bands from each class will perform again that night at the CY Stephens Auditorium to determine the class winners.

“Whether or not we make it to the final that night, we’re coming back on Tuesday,” Meyer said. “It can be early evening or late evening. We are hoping for a late night.

The South O’Brien Jazz Ensemble won the state championship only one other year: 2008. It came in second place in 2005 and 2009 and placed in the middle of the top eight in those last years.

Meyer performed four times at the Iowa Jazz Championships as a pianist in the Sutherland School District from 1987 to 1990 before the district merged with South O’Brien.

“It’s fun to come back out there too, just on the other side of things,” Meyer said.

This college year’s jazz band consists of 21 students in grades 7-12 and had a successful competitive season leading up to their state championship selection.

The ensemble’s first competition of the season was the Triton Jazz Festival on January 13 at Fort Dodge, where it won first place in Class 1A.

The band then earned a Division I “top” rating at the Iowa High School Music Association’s Jazz Band Festival on January 24 at MOC-Floyd Valley High School in Orange City.

The Wolverines were in action a few weeks later at the Morningside University Jazz Festival on Feb. 9 in Sioux City, where they placed second out of three Class 1A bands.

South O’Brien then earned second place out of five Class 1A schools at the Northwest Iowa Bandmasters Association’s District Jazz Competition on Feb. 21 at LeMars High School. This placement qualified the set for the state championships.

The jazz ensemble’s repertoire for the season consists of the following songs:

  • A swinging tune called “Groovin’ Hard” by Don Menza.
  • A ballad titled “‘Round Midnight” by Cootie Williams and Thelonious Monk.
  • A Latin piece titled “Children of Sanchez” by Chuck Mangione.

Meyer said his jazz musicians have shown improvements in their playing since the start of the season. The soloists, for example, have gained confidence in their abilities over the past two months and are “thriving and growing,” according to Meyer.

“Our rhythm section is tightening up. They do a much better job as a section, and I think that helps the group as a whole,” she said.

The band also added extra parts to some of the songs to freshen up the music and give students more opportunities to learn.

“I’m really excited for the kids,” Meyer said. “They have worked hard to achieve this goal.”

This story first appeared in the March 19, 2022 print edition of The South O’Brien Sun.

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Henry R. Wright