During the last week of school prior to Christmas, CFHS’ three jazz bands get together and create a cafe-like environment in the CFHS foyer, complete with table seating, mood lighting and refreshments. It’s called Jazz Cafe and it also helps fund the Columbians’ spring music competition trip.
It’s become a reunion of sorts. Quite a number of families of former band students come back to listen to the newest version of the three jazz bands at the high school. The audience usually includes a good crowd of recent graduates, both kids who remained in the valley and those home for Christmas break from Missoula, Bozeman and elsewhere.
Despite the biting wind and last night’s single digit temperatures, a good crowd came out to check out Karen Ulmer’s always-awesome jazz bands, Jazz George, Jazz Factory and the Columbians.
Jazz George is made up primarily of younger players and more experienced student musicians who want an opportunity to learn an instrument other than the one they typically play. It isn’t unusual to see a trombonist playing the bass with George.
Jazz Factory is a mix of CFHS musicians from all age groups, usually made of up kids who aren’t members of the Columbians.
The Columbians are the best of the best at CFHS for several reasons.
In most years, the band is primarily seniors with a small group of juniors, while an especially gifted freshman or sophomore will occasionally “sneak” in when an opening occurs. Columbians members must also take Wind Ensemble, an orchestral band class.
The biggest difference for the Columbians is that they meet daily as a class during the school year, while George and Factory only have practice time together for an hour or so on Monday nights. Columbians members also have a significant time commitment, as they play numerous gigs around the valley for non-profits, at jazz events (like the Glacier Jazz Stampede), private events such as a recent Hockaday dinner/dance, and a few events where they play with the Don Lawrence Orchestra, often as stand-ins for DLO members who can’t play at one of their events.
Perhaps the most notable thing about the Columbians is that no matter what year it is, Ulmer’s magic consistently produces a group of talented kids who play astoundingly well. At the recent two-hour Hockaday dinner/dance event, the predominant comment from an audience unfamiliar with the band: amazement that a band that good was made up of high school kids.
The secret that much of Columbia Falls has yet to discover is that Jazz Cafe is a cozy and relaxing family event where kids and adults can show off their swing dancing skills. It’s not unusual to see reunions of former classmates, families and old friends.
Your next chance to experience this event is at the spring Jazz Cafe. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you before it happens.
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