The old days of swinging people gathering together to dance to the sounds of the big bands like the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Duke Ellington Orchestra are long gone, but the Jackson High School Jazz Band hopes to bring them back.
On April 1, the band will hold its annual Big Band Dance at the high school auditorium at 8 p.m. The dance will simulate a World War II-era dance hall experience with low lighting, a large dance floor and plenty of jazzy music to groove to.
Music educators at Jackson see the dance not only as a way to provide some unique entertainment for the community, but primarily as an educational experience for the students involved.
"We recently tried to make the dance not only a musical thing but take a historical approach, as well," said director Tom Broussard. "It's important that students understand big band jazz is the only art form recognized throughout the world that originated right here in America."
Broussard said that people come from all over Southeast Missouri to dance, including as far away as Poplar Bluff, Dexter and Ste. Genevieve. The event usually draws between 250 and 300 people.
The jazz band will play compositions by legendary jazz composers Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Tony Dorsey. The tunes cover a variety of styles, including cha-cha, rhumbas and sambas.
"The goal is for students to be exposed to all the different styles associated with jazz and be able to perform them successfully," said Broussard.
The students say they enjoy playing the big band tunes and recreating the atmosphere of the big band era, right down to wearing the suits that big band members always appeared in.
"It's an awesome experience, just being up there playing, doing what you want to do and seeing those people enjoy what they're doing -- getting into it, dancing -- while you're doing the same," said senior trumpet player Kenny DeCoursey.
For DeCoursey, it has given him some valuable experience as he hopes to one day be a professional jazz musician.
Derek King, a senior drummer, also said one of the greatest parts about the dance is the more informal atmosphere.
"It's one of our more interactive experiences throughout band," said King. "In a concert, like with the wind symphony, the audience just stands by and listens, then after you're done they clap. For a big band dance, it's a little different for the audience and the performers because they're dancing and interacting with the music that you're playing. It's pretty neat."
The students will be joined by a new jazz ensemble formed by Pat Schwent including all four Jackson band directors and some professors from Southeast Missouri State University.
Tickets for the concert are available at Shivelbine's in Cape Girardeau and Country Mart in Jackson. Tickets will also be available at the door.
335-6611, extension 182