ENGLEWOOD — Tim Ostrow, band director at L.A. Ainger Middle School, had 80 students this school year who wanted to be in the jazz band and only 24 spots.
“(Jazz) is a big hit with the kids,” said Ostrow, who has 210 students in band. For many aspiring young musicians in the Englewood area, jazz has become the bridge to playing their favorite genre of music.
“If you listen to the radio, all the songs on it are kind of the same. It’s a unique genre,” said Dakota Wiersma, a Lemon Bay High School student.
Wiersma plays the congas in Josh Grossnicklaus’ jazz class at Lemon Bay.
“There’s something very familiar about jazz,” Grossnicklaus said. “It’s not something so far from pop culture. It’s something everyone can relate to.”
Grossnicklaus has been teaching music for six years, including four at Lemon Bay.
“Jazz is the only true genre of music invented in America,” he said. “It is not easy music to play. You have to come in with a certain skill or tool set to play. It’s steady progression with no defined levels. You have to develop it, add more tricks, then detail.”
Many of Grossnicklaus’ students appreciate the dynamics of jazz.
“You can always do a different style,” said saxophonist Richard Sommers. “We always experience a different culture just by playing a different tune.”
“We can put our creative thoughts to action,” said saxophonist Brian Delaney. Drummer Tanner Farnsworth said jazz can be spontaneous.
“You can go down really quietly (in jazz) and it stays that way,” Farnsworth said. “You can bring it up in a manner that blows people away like in rock music.”
Trumpeter Jantzen Roe said jazz is complex rather than complicated.
Jazz’s appeal is also evident among middle-schoolers.
Ostrow works with two jazz bands.
“We have so many kids, we double up on some parts,” Ostrow said. “We have five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets. We have a rhythm section consisting of piano, drum, bass and guitar.”
Ostrow spends the first nine to 12 weeks of the school year reviewing fundamentals for students in jazz courses.
“To be in jazz band, you have to be in band,” he said. “There’s a lot of teaching that happens. Most of the kids in advanced jazz band are in advanced band. Some kids can really go all out.”
Ostrow said students have the most difficulty with jazz while studying syncopated (or offbeat) rhythm and soloing.
“The more you teach, the better you become,” he said.