It may look like a high school, but it’s going to sound like a New Orleans jazz joint.
The new Indianola Jazz Combo will play its first local gig at the RAGBRAI town hall meeting Tuesday, May 21, at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.
The music will open the discussion and set the stage for the city’s “Rollin' into Nola” Mardi Gras RAGBRAI theme.
“We’re taking some of our music and putting a Mardi Gras groove over it — a ‘second line groove,’ we call it,” explained Nic Addelia, who directs the combo, referring to the New Orleans parade tradition.
The student ensemble includes seniors Aidan Curry, alto saxophone, and Brady Dunn, trumpet; junior Caleb Nostrala, piano; and sophomores Lucas Petersen, bass, and Danny Gilfanov, drums.
Addelia, one of the band instructors at the high school, decided to facilitate a combo this year to give students a glimpse of what they can do with live music in adulthood. It fits in with the district’s focus on “Value Beyond School,” he said.
“While it’s easy enough to perform during a church service, or play in a community band, there simply are not many big-band jazz opportunities after high school,” Addelia explained. “Forming a combo was my answer to this and will hopefully encourage our jazz-focused students to continue to find playing opportunities after school.”
One unique aspect of the genre is improvised solo work within a larger piece. Dunn described it as musicians “playing catch” among themselves — and something he needed Addelia’s guidance on in the beginning.
“I didn’t understand how everyone got up there and figured out their solos on the spot,” Dunn said. “His door is always open for me to walk in and ask him, ‘What’s the best way to go about this? What’s the best way to change my style and learn?’ He’s the biggest help to me so far in my jazz career.”
The combo practiced together weekly until they mastered about a dozen songs, although the solos purposely still vary each time they gather. Their homework now: Listening to jazz greats to continue to glean styles that resonate with them.
Jazz originated in 1910s New Orleans, a blend of ragtime and blues, but morphed into big-band swing in the 1930s. It’s found new popularity, according to Curry, with recent movies “La La Land” and “Whiplash.”
“A lot of times when you’re soloing, you’ll kind of reference famous jazz players’ work. … So if you ‘quote’ somebody while you’re playing, it’s really cool because other people can tell and will say, ‘Oh, I really liked your reference to Dave Brubeck a little bit ago,'” said Curry, referring to the famed pianist as an example.
The jazz combo has played during school events and was even invited to play at Noce, a renown jazz club in Des Moines, in March. Indianola’s larger Jazz I band plays there annually. But opening the RAGBRAI meeting this Tuesday will mark the combo’s debut at a community event.
Nerves? They’re tempered by the combo members’ faith in each other, they said, and the foundation Addelia helped them to develop.
“Each one of us is really great at our instruments and motivated to do what we do,” Petersen said. “So we don’t need to worry about, say, if Danny has a hard drumming part. We can rely on Danny to work on it because we all want to do well.”
“He’s been pretty pivotal, honestly,” Gilfanov said of Addelia. “You know, he got us started in the first place and he guided us along with this whole new jazz thing we get to do. And I really love doing it.”
Looking to the future, the combo hopes for more community performances. Addelia plans to list them on the music department’s website, http://ihsmusic.wixsite.com/music/band, if members of the public want to follow along.
Then there’s the task of adding musicians as combo members graduate. Curry and Dunn are off to the University of Iowa in the fall, where they’ll be roommates and play in marching band.
“I’m going to keep music in my life,” Dunn said.
The combo will have a different look and sound every year, but then, isn’t that the nature of jazz?
“The best kind of music is jazz music,” said Nostrala. “It’s really soulful.”