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All jazzed up at Denison High School

When it comes to music, one of the most challenging for musicians can be in the genre of jazz. Recently, Texas Christian University in Fort Worth hosted one of the largest jazz competitions in North Texas which brought in schools from as far away as Waxahachie, Belton and Dallas-Fort Worth. For the Denison High School Jazz Band 1, this was their first performance at this festival where they earned fourth place in 5A Varsity and junior Michael Golston earned Outstanding Soloist for his tenor saxophone and flute solos.

“There is a deep history of jazz music in Denison. Denison is home to jazz legends Clora Bryant who played the trumpet and Booker T. Ervin who played the tenor sax. To pay homage to this rich history, I founded the Sweethearts of Swing in fall of 2020. The Sweethearts of Swing is an all-girls jazz band for students in grades 7-12, which meets entirely outside of school. This group has in many ways been the catalyst for the growth of the jazz program, as we have now grown to have two full jazz big bands at the high school level as well as the Sweethearts,” said Denison High School director of bands Melissa Lewis.

As a course of study in high school music, students elect to take jazz band class, on top of their other band classes. Some students learn a secondary instrument in this ensemble, such as guitar or saxophone, which creates an added challenge. Students learn how to improvise, or create a melody without sheet music, that fits in to the chord structure of the piece.

"Playing jazz is a way to harness a creative energy not typically found in many other forms of music taught in school. It allows for versatility, flexibility and freedom of expression down to the player rather than just the composer - mainly through improvisation. It is also an incredible privilege to be able to take part in the furthering of a genre that is the grandfather of effectively every modern form of music, whether it be pop or heavy metal. It's also just pretty fun to play,” said senior trumpet player Gavin Dunaway.

Lewis shared that the jazz band students love to take a piece of music and just run with it. From an educator’s perspective, to watch that caliber of high school musician truly love to learn new music can be quite amazing.

“I have been so proud of the growth of the jazz program over the years. Each year, the students have improved and increased the difficulty of music that we are able to perform. The Jazz Band I went to their first festival outside of Denison last year, and this year went to their first jazz band competition. I look forward to jazz band rehearsal each week because I know that the students love the opportunity to create music together. They communicate so well as an ensemble and the energy in the room is electric,” Lewis said.

The Denison High School Jazz Band 1 plans to perform live locally on Saturday, May 6 at the North Texas Arts Festival to be held at the Katy Depot in downtown Denison.

The Denison High School Jazz Band one recently competed at the TCU Jazz Festival in Ft. Worth where they earned a fourth place spot in their classification.

Denison High School junior Michael Golston earned Outstanding Soloist for his tenor saxophone and flute solos. Jazz festival in Ft. Worth. “This was our first performance at this festival and the students did great,” said Melissa Lewis, Denison High School Director of Bands.

Performing live are the favorite moments for the Denison High School Jazz Band. Whether it’s competing at a festival, or playing for students on DISD campuses, band members are energized by watching listeners enjoy the tunes.

The Sweethearts of Swing is an all-female jazz ensemble for girls in grades 7 through 12. The group meets entirely outside of school and has been a major factor in the growth of the jazz program at DHS.


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