In order to perform at the conference, the Jazz Band 1 from last year had to send in recordings to a group of collegiate educators who selected one jazz band from a pool of applicants from Missouri. In addition to a high school jazz band, the MMEA conference hosts concert bands, orchestras, and choirs from around the state.
“They only choose one jazz band every year,” said Band Director Jeff Pottinger. “It is just one of those huge honors to be represented as being that good, and then to be representative of the entire state is amazing.”
“It felt very professional and that felt exciting to me because I had never been in such a high caliber performance,” said trumpet player Peter Michalski (Sr.).
The performance meant a lot to Catholic educators, who had not seen a Catholic school jazz band perform there since 1993 and who often find it difficult to compete with public schools because of their lack of a “feeder” system, or a set system for kids to transition from grade school to high school.
“At SLUH it is a disadvantage for us to not know year to year who is coming and what they are going to be able to play and that is true for all the Catholic schools,” said Pottinger. “I think one of the fun things for me was to talk to so many Catholic school teachers down there who were so excited to have a Catholic school there.”
After a long bus ride and a couple of trips to McDonald’s, the band finally arrived at the Tan-Tar-A resort where they set up and walked around to look at the various college and business exhibits.
“I liked hanging out around the MMEA place, seeing all the things they had there and all the different organizations and places that were there,” said pianist Luke Missey (Jr.).
“I thought it was a lot of fun to walk around to the different vendors and try out brass instruments that I’d never be able to afford,” said Michalski.
Following an opening from Pottinger’s right-hand man, Joe “Doc” Koestner, the group’s performance began with Duke Ellington’s “Such Sweet Thunder.”
“The first song was fun and a neat opening and people were kind of clapping lightly,” said Pottinger.
“We started with a bang because “Such Sweet Thunder” is so loud and proud, and I think with those first few notes SLUH was really able to convey what we were about and why we were there,” said Michalski.
After that, they played a jazzy rendition of the familiar rock tune “Blackbird” by The Beatles.
“The second song was a great fun groove tune everybody knows, “Blackbird,” but it just was so tight,” said Pottinger. “Carter Fortman on drums and Joey Hanks on bass did a great job and Missey just played an amazing piano solo, from his introduction to his improvised solo throughout it, and Erald Murati played an exceptional solo.”
“I’m a huge “Blackbird” fan, and when I heard that we were playing it, I was excited,” said Michalski. “Obviously the jazz version is a funk reimagining of the original Beatles tune, which really kicked the energy up.”
With the third song, the band slowed things down with Stan Kenton’s version of “Here’s That Rainy Day.”
“Then we played “Here’s That Rainy Day,” and I swear we had people crying,” said Pottinger. “Doc and Mr. Faris said that people were clapping more and more and getting more excited.”
“I felt it went great because we were able to play in a really smooth and clean manner, and that’s really hard to nail down in a lot of jazz pieces,” said Michalski. “We were able to slow it down a bit and bring out a little more emotion and heart in the music.”
Pottinger then had the audience sing “Happy Birthday” to his wife for her 50th birthday. The group concluded the long-awaited performance with the exciting Latin tune “Mofongo De Mama.”
“‘Mofongo’ was just a party,” said Pottinger.
“The last song, “Mofongo,” was a nice way to lay it all out there as the last song,” said Missey. “I was really feeling it during that song.”
They received a standing ovation from the audience.
“When they erupted into a standing ovation after our performance, I was shocked. I just hadn’t thought about them standing up immediately; they just don’t do that,” said Pottinger. “I think in part because the audience is so discerning that they are not really quick to do that so I was just so overwhelmed.”
“That was really powerful for me. We get a standing ovation when we play for our parents but to get one from the professionals who understand the intricacies of music and all the little details because these people who have dedicated their lives to the craft think so highly of us,” said Michalski.
The audience of music educators was astonished by the group’s professionalism.
“Musically, their precision and musicality stuck out,” said Pottinger. “That’s what I got a lot of comments from the other directors about and just what a great ensemble it was. Surprisingly good.”
It was not always easy for the band. Extra rehearsals and exorbitant amounts of practice were required to get to this performance.
“Obviously the music was very hard, and getting everyone to play that music in accordance with each other was very hard and staying committed after months of playing the same songs and going to extra rehearsals,” said Missey. “I had no idea what this was going to be like at the start of the year, but I was pleasantly surprised by how everyone handled it, considering no one knew what to expect…But the end result was amazing.”
Overall, the performance turned out wonderfully for the band.
“I thought it was great and very successful,” said Missey. “I thought all of the songs that we played sounded the best they had ever. It was very fulfilling to see the months of work pay off.”
The Tuesday before the performance the band had a practice performance in front of an audience of parents.
“I feel like their growth has just been immense over the last week in particular and even since the Tuesday night pre-concert performance to the Thursday night performance, their growth was exponential,” said Pottinger.
The band is grateful for all the support they have received from the entire community in preparation for this performance.
“The support from the SLUH community was great,” said Michalski. “Just to see how intensely people want to give to our music program, especially Mr. and Mrs. Matecki. I think three out of our five flugelhorns were bought by them, and for that I’m just really grateful.”
“I’ve been really touched by the SLUH community,” said Pottinger. “There have been so many people rooting for us this year—our administration, faculty members, and parents who seemed to be just as excited as I was about the event.”