Warrenton High School has always maintained a top-notch music program. In the past ten years, the band has earned first or second place at state competitions. However, for several years, the music has been missing one key component—a jazz band. This year, Michael McClure, a Warrenton-Hammond School District music teacher of nine years, decided to start a zero-hour jazz band for any high schooler interested in joining.
Every morning, 14 high school concert band students and one middle school student meet in the WHS band room at 7:00 a.m. for practice. With limited practice playing jazz music, these students worked with McClure to understand the basics of jazz. First, every student chose a jazz instrument resulting in four trumpets, two alto saxophones, one tenor saxophone, two clarinets, a flute, a trombone, a bassist, a pianist, and two percussionists. The students learned blues scales and the beginnings of chord structure and jazz progressions.
Many of these students, such as senior Hally Chauvin, took the opportunity to learn a new instrument. Hally, a clarinet player in the WHS concert band, began the challenge of learning the bass guitar. “I was excited to learn a new instrument because I have been wanting to learn how to play multiple instruments for awhile now,” Hally says. “It has been a lot of fun though, and I am really improving on it now.”
Hally says she went through struggles from switching from treble clef to bass clef and of course learning the fretboard on the bass. Her family has roots from Louisiana, and especially New Orleans. “[Jazz] is a part of me and my family,” she says. “Jazz band has been amazing. The people in that class are awesome and I enjoy jazz music a lot.” As a senior, Hally has finally been granted her wish of a WHS jazz band after years of asking McClure.
“Jazz is a true American art form and is a part of our history,” McClure states. “I feel that it is important to expose my students to this style of music. Plus playing in a jazz band exposes my students to harder rhythms than they usually see in concert band, and a wide variety of styles to get used to playing in including; swing, latin, funk, and blues. Jazz also lets students be learn to be creative when they improvise during a song.”
It has been hard for many students to learn how to improvise on the spot—especially live during a concert. “I can say I am really happy with the way they sounded,” McClure said after the group’s first concert. “The group blended really well and played really cleanly together. I have noticed the students becoming more confident with playing solos and improving, especially since there are several players that decided to play a new instrument for jazz band. Not only are they learning to play jazz, but also a completely new instrument.”
McClure has been faithfully showing up early every morning to see these students at first fumble through music, but in the end create a truly beautiful sound that can only come from jazz. McClure hopes to see the jazz band grow in numbers—especially in the low brass. He wants the band to become ambassadors to the community; someday even putting on a dance with live jazz music.
Above all, however, McClure’s first and most important goal is simply to “enjoy playing and being creative.” What better way to do that than be a part of the Warrenton High School jazz band?