By Alex Foltz
The Muscatine High School Jazz Band will attend the Iowa Jazz Championships in April. The Muskies will compete at the Class 4A level.

The Iowa Jazz Championships take place every year in April at Iowa State University in Ames. This year, 15 schools will compete in each of the four Iowa High School Music Association classifications, for a total of 60 bands. For Class 4A, bands will compete in Stephens Auditorium, whereas the three smaller classes will compete in the Scheman Building. Those bands that make the finals will compete in Stephens Auditorium in the evening.

There are two ways to qualify for the Iowa Jazz Championships. The first way is by automatic invitation. For a band to receive this invitation, they must place either first or second in their district jazz festival. The second way to qualify is by a wild card invitation. To receive a wild card invitation, the band must meet one of three criteria: beat a band that has received an automatic invitation, win an independent jazz festival in Iowa with at least two bands from Iowa in the same class, or finish third in a district jazz festival with at least four bands entered. There are typically three wild card invitations issued per class. The Board of Directors of the Iowa Jazz Championships selects the most qualified bands.

The Muscatine High School Jazz Band received a wild card invitation by beating a school that had received an automatic invitation, according to jazz band director Lee Plummer. This is the first time that the Muscatine Jazz Band has been invited to the Championships. Plummer stated that the quality of bands in their district has made it incredibly difficult in the past years.

Plummer is in his second year at Muscatine High School. He has experience in directing jazz bands, having attended the Championships multiple times in his career. Plummer states that having such a young jazz band has made the competition difficult.

“Last year we got pretty close in a couple of contests. We did really well, but they’re young. It’s one of the biggest things that happens. You have to have a little bit of experience and you have to have really good players,” Plummer said.

Over the course of the year, Plummer worked with his students on solo performances and improvisation. He stated it takes time, skill and knowledge. Having a year to hone this work has improved them vastly, according to Plummer.

Corbin, an alto saxophone player, says that he improved his improvisation by listening to jazz stations. Odyssius, a trumpet player for the jazz band, spends his time watching professional trumpet players such as Kudy Williams and Bubber Miley. He also listens to Duke Ellington’s band to improve his improvisational skills.

The season had some highs and lows for the jazz band. They competed at Simpson College in January but did not place. At the Iowa High School Music Association State Festival in Davenport, they received a Division One rating. They then competed at Southeast Polk High School, where they won. At the Liberty Jazz Festival, they placed second. At the Coe College competition, Plummer stated that they did not place, but that was where they qualified for their wild card invitation. They also beat a band that had beaten them the week before.

“It kind of always sounds bad with the whole competition aspect of music, but it’s one of those things where, especially as the band directors and with the students, we really try to make it more about, here’s what we’re doing each week and here’s how we can improve ourselves,” Plummer said.

This year’s competition will take place on Thursday, April 5.