Jazz band places first in districts, heads to state competition


After placing first in Class 2A at the Southeast Iowa Bandmasters Association (SEIBA) district jazz festival on March 4, 2023, West Liberty High School Jazz Band I received an invitation to attend the 2023 Iowa Jazz Championships in Ames.

According to the Iowa Jazz Championships (IJC) website, the event is an annual competition for the top 60 jazz bands from across the state of Iowa. Fifteen bands in each IHMSA classification (1A, 2A, 3A, and 4A) compete against one another in a daytime preliminary competition on the campus of Iowa State University.

The top two bands from each classification perform in the evening finals competition. This year, IJC takes place on Tuesday, April 4.

The IJC was founded by Iowa jazz educators in 1976 and continues to be an important event on the Iowa high school music landscape each spring.

The last time West Liberty High School attended the IJC was in 1996, under the leadership of band director Jim Davis. That year, the West Liberty jazz band placed eighth during the daytime competition.

The jazz program at West Liberty has grown exponentially over the past several years. Last year, there were so many students interested in participating in the co-curricular jazz program that two separate high school jazz bands were created.

Now, students are accepted into Jazz Band I by audition each October, and all high school band students are welcome to participate in Jazz Band II with no audition required.

This year, 42 students participated in the jazz program at WLHS, a number which represents over half the enrollment of the band program as a whole. An impressive number of students in Jazz Band I also joined Jazz Band II on a secondary instrument.

The growth of the jazz program would not be possible without the involvement of West Liberty Community Schools Liaison Lupita Saucedo and the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Muscatine County for assistance in providing transportation, meals, and uniforms to allow all students access to jazz education, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Together, both jazz bands performed at the Southeast Polk Jazz Festival (February 2023), the Coe College Jazz Summit (February 2023), and the SEIBA District Jazz Festival (March 2023).

The Jazz Band I additionally competed at the IHSMA State Jazz Festival in January 2023, where they earned a Division II Excellent rating. Unfortunately, this year’s trip to the University of Northern Iowa Tall Corn Jazz Festival was canceled due to winter weather.

At IJC, the Jazz Band will perform three pieces of music in their competition repertoire: Samba de los Iguanas by Rick Stitzel, Nora by Bob Turner (featuring alto saxophone soloist Tye Miller), and Mudbug Strut, a traditional New Orleans-style swing chart by Paul Baker. Students rotate improvisation solos at each rehearsal and performance.

There will be an Iowa Jazz Championships Send-Off Concert on Monday, April 3, at 5:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium. The concert will be free and open to the public, and will be the band’s last opportunity to perform their 2023 repertoire before departing for IJC that evening.

Support for attending IJC has been amazing from the school district as well as the West Liberty community. Five hundred dollars in donations was collected at the district band concert on March 6, which was matched by a donation from the West Liberty Aquarius Club.

Additional business donors have included MidwestOne Bank, West Liberty Vet Clinic, and the Wuestenberg Agency. The West LIberty Fine Arts Boosters also presold over 50 Championships T-shirts, which will be available for pick-up on April 3.

With the donations and the proceeds from T-shirt sales, the West Liberty Fine Arts Booster Club was able to reserve a charter bus for the band’s trip to Ames, as well as purchase a T-shirt for each of the students attending IJC.

They continue to accept donations with gratitude, as the balance for our transportation to IJC will use some of the Booster Club’s savings.

The Booster Club is also supporting the band by hiring several professional jazz educators over the next two weeks to rehearse and clinic the jazz band as they prepare to compete at IJC.