IHS Music Alumni are guests at 2010 Jazz Cabaret
The 2010 Jazz Cabaret held in May featured "Stars of Ionia", Past, Present and Future. In tribute to retired Band Director Andrew MacFarland, alumni and staff guest artists included, from left, Tom Brill, Rob Powers, Scott Fell, Phil Lesky, Andrew MacFarland, Doug Horn, Doug Brown, Chris Bennett, and Tom Brill. Jacob Braun, Class of 2008, also performed.
MacFarland details the Evolution of Jazz Band at IHS
by Maureen Meade, Community Relations Director
The IHS Jazz Band has held a long-standing reputation for excellence. Many at the 2010 Jazz Cabaret learned much more history about the Jazz Band at Ionia High School, namely that IHS was on the forefront when “jazz bands” were introduced in Michigan high school band programs.
Like many who heard retired Band Director Andrew MacFarland’s fascinating list of Ionia Jazz “firsts”, my curiosity for more detail and added perspective on this issue was piqued. (Thank you, Mrs. MacFarland!) Who better to get the scoop from than Mr. MacFarland, who was instrumental (pardon the pun) in helping to usher “Jazz” into MSBOA (Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association) as a teacher, an organizer, and an enthusiast.
At the Jazz Cabaret, dedicated to Mr. MacFarland and featuring “Stars of Ionia”- Past, Present and Future, the audience heard that the first IHS Jazz Band started in 1962 as a quartet in Mr. MacFarland’s living room in Muir. “For ten years, we met one time each week - on Thursday nights.”
That “jazz” band started with two trumpets (Jerry Melvin and Andy MacFarland) and two trombones (Jim Melvin and Ivan Breining) and evolved into the Jazz Group. From 1962-72 a small jazz band of 3 saxophones, 2 trumpets and 1-2 trombones met at Twin Rivers once a week.
In 1972, MSBOA piloted the idea of a State Jazz Festival, which Mr. MacFarland remembers proudly, is where the IHS Jazz Band received its first first! “This single statewide festival was held at Flint Southwestern High School. The IHS Jazz Band was the last band to play before lunch and the first to receive a Division I rating in Michigan! Others went on after lunch to capture a Division I rating that year,” he explained, “but IHS did it first.”
(Note: When the State Jazz Festival was piloted, there were no District Jazz Festivals. As State MSBOA Vice President and District 10 Vice President, Mr. MacFarland helped initiate the District 10 Jazz Festival. Now almost all 16 districts have district jazz festivals, with a number of sites and 6-14 bands at each site.)
In 1973, when “jazz” was considered a bad word by some, then Superintendent Bert Aldrich gave the okay for a “contemporary music ensemble” class. A former band director himself, Mr. Aldrich told Mr. MacFarland, “If the band can play well enough to earn a 1st, Ionia High School can have a class.”
Ionia High School was among the first to have jazz band as a credit class.
In the mid-1970’s, the Jazz Band emerged from this successful contemporary music ensemble. So successful, in fact, that many, many musicians wanted to be part of Jazz Band, even at 7 a.m. “By the third year, we established that Jazz Band be held one hour before school started, and it stuck.”
Rather than turn away more students than he could accept, Mr. MacFarland increased Ionia’s instrumentation numbers. “We had 10 saxophones, 8 trumpets, 6-8 trombones, 1 bass, 1 guitar, 2 drummers, 2 piano players, and 1-2 flutes. For decades Barry Wentz nicknamed the Jazz Band ‘Andy’s Army’.”
Though Mr. MacFarland was one of four band directors to serve on the original MSBOA Jazz Committee which set the guidelines establishing the composition of the ensemble, (5 saxophones, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones and rhythm section), Mr. MacFarland just couldn’t limit the musicians aspiring to be in the IHS jazz bands to meet the standard MSBOA numbers. (I suspect Mr. MacFarland argued often that the MSBOA standards were just guidelines, not rules!)
Through the years, the size of Andy’s Army made the band ineligible for recognitions from time to time. For example, Andy’s Army was not eligible to earn “Best Band” at the CMU Festival, which adhered to strict MSBOA guidelines.
When the IHS Jazz Band captured its top rating at MSBOA in 2010, it was the 21st IHS band to receive a Division I, according to Mr. MacFarland. Twenty-one firsts in 38 years is impressive. Consider that from time to time the Jazz Band couldn’t get to Festival for various reasons, such as scheduling conflicts with the high school musical or a broken truck and it’s even more impressive.
After a number of MSBOA jazz festivals were held, the original four advocates – Mr. MacFarland, William Baker of Warren-Mott High School, Jack Pearson of Dearborn High School, and Barry Wentz of Flint Southwestern - pushed for an “All Star- Band,” comprised of the students judged as the best jazz musicians. Thus, another avenue of recognition for individuals emerged.
Throughout the years, Mr. MacFarland estimates as many as 30 Ionia students have been chosen for the All-Star Bands; in fact, Mr. MacFarland recalled that in the First All-Star Band, a majority were Ionia students. Mr. MacFarland enjoyed the honor of conducting the All-Star Band three times, twice as sole conductor.
Ionia alumni jazz musicians performing at the 2010 Jazz Cabaret who earned All-Star Band honors were Tom Brill, 2 years, 1st trumpet his senior year; Brian Brill, piano; and Scott Fell, 3 years, lead trumpet as a senior.
More change occurred. MSBOA’s All-Star Band changed to the Honors Band under the Youth Arts Festival umbrella. During Jazz Festival, judges cited outstanding soloists and used this system to pick a full All-Star Jazz Band. The Youth Arts Festival expanded to chorale, dance, classical ensembles and jazz combo. In the late seventies, the Brian Brill Quartet was the first jazz ensemble to receive “Best in the State”.
Current IHS Jazz Band Director Scott Beyer earned honors as lead alto saxophone his senior year at Alpena High School in the Youth Arts Festival Honors Band. The relationship of Mr. Beyer, his high school band teacher Barry Wentz, and Mr. MacFarland is reported in a sidebar story.
Mr. MacFarland transferred from Lyons in 1964 and began a wonderful 25 year partnership with fellow band teacher Charles Brill. It was perfect, he said. “Charlie loved Broadway and marching band; I preferred jazz and classical.”
Mr. MacFarland taught band for 36 years, including Lyons High School, prior to retirement from Ionia Public Schools in 1997. He taught jazz as a class from 1973-1997, which translates to 24 years of zero hour!
Why jazz? Mr. MacFarland grew up with jazz recordings at home because his father liked to listen to Dixieland. Interestingly, his mother was a classical musician who insisted he learn the classics first and foremost.
Jazz, classical, Broadway, marches. . .I think jazz is part of a person’s personality; it’s just there! Jazz offers a musical genre in which improvisation is welcome. It allows spontaneous expression of oneself in an acceptable manner, Mr. MacFarland said.
Undeniably, Mr. MacFarland has fond and proud memories from his teaching career. The names of talented students who impressed him just tumble off the tip of his tongue. He enjoys knowing the music program launched the careers as many musicians and teachers, and notes many more band alumni play in community bands and serve as band booster parents.
“Colleagues were amazed by the caliber of musicians produced at IHS year after year. At competitions the IHS Jazz Band outplayed most university bands,” he recalled. “Some would tease me. What’s the secret? Is there something in the Ionia water?”
Musician Doug Horn, IHS alumnus, and Scott Beyer, current IHS Band Director, teamed for dueling saxophones at the Jazz Cabaret. Also pictured are IHS teachers/musicians Rob Powers, on left, and Doug Brown.
Tom Brill, Brian Brill
IHS Alumni Brian Brill, on keyboard, and his brother, Tom, on trumpet, accompanied by IHS senior Mackenzie Kneale, took a turn entertaining at the Jazz Cabaret.