By B. Adam Burke
SOLON– Dorothy Jacobi is doing what she loves every day. She comes in early each day for Jazz I and II to lead, coach and play along in the Solon Middle School jazz scene.
Her favorite part? Watching the music take shape as students begin to command their instruments. She credits the concert ensemble for the high level of playing in the jazz program.
February brings three festivals for the Solon Middle School band in Indianola, Cedar Rapids, and Earlham (Madison County); then on March 3, they’ll compete, along with the high school band, at the district-level SEIBA Jazz Festival.
Since 2006, Jacobi’s ensembles have placed in the top three at jazz festivals at the Coe College Jazz Summit, SEIBA Jazz Fest, Indianola Jazz Festival, and Jack Oatts Jazz Festival, with some first place finishes.
Last year, the Solon team gave up a substantial part of the regular group to Show Choir and a team composed of Jazz I and II musicians not at the singing event competed at districts and took first prize. The self-dubbed “Leftovers” rehearsed together for just a week and quickly got caught up in a groove. The district event is organized by SEIBA, the Southeast Iowa Bandmasters Association, which Jacobi currently serves as the president of the regional group.
Jacobi calls out fine playing and soloists during songs with a wireless microphone and splits her class between conducting and playing along on one of her instruments– flute, clarinet, tuba, trombone, trumpet and alto sax. She said she’s only shy about trying double-reed woodwinds, like the oboe, bassoon, and crumhorn.
Her husband is a percussionist who works for West Music. He has helped her with what she called the toughest part of her jazz sessions– putting together the rhythm section.
Many players are doublers, musicians who can play more than one instrument. Some play three or more.
Jacobi teaches four classes of concert band and the two jazz classes and does pull-out sessions during the day with students and the ensemble brass, woodwinds and percussion sections.
She received her degree in music education from Jamestown College in North Dakota and earned a master’s degree in music from University of Nebraska at Omaha. She’s taught at Solon for eight years.
She started a life of music in fifth grade with the trombone, but it didn’t fit her. A few years later, she tried the trumpet and something clicked. She taught herself to play and kept going until college.
Her students have been named for all-state music honors and she’s most happy seeing them “get” the music. She chooses and arranges the music for the middle school, mostly traditional songs like “Bill Bailey” and “Embraceable You.”
Students are taught to “comp” (short for compose) to pre-recorded music at first to feel the song’s tempo. Jazz comping is sometimes described as improvised notes within the chord or song structure.
The class practices difficult parts of songs over and over for smooth transitions and a steady, swinging beat. Jacobi will ask one player to play another’s part as a demonstration. She called on the drummer to play a set of notes for timing a brass and woodwind part. Or she’d play the tune herself on a horn that’s always nearby and ready for music-making.
The Jack Oatts Jazz Festival is Saturday, Feb. 4, in Earlham; Indianola Jazz Encounter is Friday, Feb. 17, and the Coe College Jazz Summit is Thursday, Feb. 23. SEIBA Jazz Festival district competition is Saturday, March 3.