The Meridian Star
Special to The Star
For Scott Kratzer and Griffen Gardner, two hours on Monday nights are dedicated to their passion.
The two – one a band director at Southeast High and the other, a sophomore at Northeast High – have a common bond: they’re members of Meridian Community College’s Monday night Jazz Band. And for the past three months, they, along with 17 other musicians, have been rehearsing in College’s Ivy Hall Room 1114 under the direction of Conductor Carey Smith for Thursday's Arts & Letters Series Jazz Band Concert.
This highly successful group hits just the right notes with local and national audiences. In 1984, the band played at the World’s Fair in New Orleans and was featured on the 100th Anniversary Concert Series at Carnegie Hall in New York. In addition, the band has been invited numerous times to play at Bay Springs’ Jazz in the Grove, Mississippi’s only outdoor jazz festival.
The upcoming concert marks the 32nd time the Jazz Band has performed on the Arts & Letters bill. Nationally-known jazz greats such as Clark Terry, Carl Fontana and Butch Miles have played with the MCC Jazz Band.
"This is the best the band has played in a long time and we are looking forward to presenting the program to the public," Smith said.
"Featured on this concert Jeff Reiter on trumpet, Rick Bennet on alto saxophone, and Sue Shoffiett on flute. It is a varied program I chose to highlight the strengths of our band members," he added.
Some of the members of the band have been loyal and played for more than 33 years. High school students from Southeast, West Lauderdale, and Morton are among the band members.
"We are truly a community jazz band with 21 players in age ranging from a sophopmore in high school to an octogenarian," said Kratzer, who plays drums, about the College’s Jazz Band.
“If you’re a true musician, the love of music never goes away. It’s something inside that has to come out, that has to keep coming out. It just has never diminished with me and with a lot of these other guys, too,” he said.
Gardner, an alto saxophonist, echoed the sentiments.
“I’ve done community band before and I wanted to join the jazz band. It’s a great experience especially with me being in high school," he said.
“It’s just fun. We don’t get to play this kind of music in school. We play great music in school, but this is a whole other level,” Gardner said.
It is different music than what’s being played in high school, Kratzer said. “They get to stretch out a little bit, play some different stuff and it’s good for them.”
He knows from experience because Kratzer has played with MCC bands since 1989 and was a member of the group that performed at Carnegie Hall.
“I haven’t missed a season,” he said.
But it’s not only the love of music that leads them to Ivy Hall on Monday evenings; it’s also Smith. “He makes suggestions,” said Kratzer. “Yes, he is my dear friend but we also work well together. He’s made me the drummer I am today because of his influences.”
Gardner said, “(playing in this band) pushes you above the rest – especially above the other kids at school.”
Smith added, "It should be a great concert and we hope to have a large audience to enjoy the concert."
The Jazz Band Fall 2013 roster includes: Rick Bennett, Susan Alexander and Gardner, alto saxophone; Theresa Griffith and Nichol Treuil, tenor saxophone; Alan Carr, baritone saxophone; Sue Shoffiett, flute; Jeff Reiter, J.B. Griffith, Jacob Hennes and Jacob Robinson, trumpet; Lee Rigdon, Bill Drinkwater, Evan Derrick, Taylor Hawkins, Caleb Landrum and Ryder Leifried, trombone; Will Rolan, Bass, Kratzer, drums and Smith, piano/conductor.