Last weekend, the top jazz combo at Oswego High School traveled to Rolling Meadows High School to compete against over 100 jazz bands and combos from five different states. The Jazz in the Meadows Festival is one of the largest and most highly regarded jazz competitions in the Midwest. The group of musicians won first place in the combo grouping.
Combo one, also known as Oswego’s Own Lil’ Big Band, is composed of trumpet player Ryan Kazda (senior), drummer Ryan Boone (senior), trombonist Kyle Bachara (senior), saxophone player Tony Cassidy (senior), pianist Atharva Iyer (junior), and bassist Erik Dralle (senior). Although they have known each other for quite some time, these students first started working together over the summer and have played in many gigs and competitions since, including playing at Oswego’s Christmas Walk, Woodfield Mall, and eventually playing at the Wine on the Fox Festival.
Even though the combos are first initially organized and set up by assistant band director and head of the jazz band Kevin Schoenbach, much of the group is self led without the help of anybody. The Jazz Ensemble One here at OHS is split into four different combos of varying ability.
This group of musicians meet together every single day of the week for at least 15 minutes, as well as an hour after school on Mondays and up to three hours on select Saturdays. Specifically with the upcoming competition, the combo worked on learning three songs.
Not only did the combo win first place overall, but some additional awards were granted. Bachara, Kazda, and Cassidy also received “Outstanding Musician” awards for their performance as horn players. Kazda, the head musician of the group, explained what this extra award meant to him.
“It feels good, I mean any award is always a nice reminder of kind all of the hard work and practice and extra hours you put into it. It’s a true kind of testament to the dedication I’ve done. It feels good, it’s a nice honor, but as a whole to know that half the combo got outstanding awards is saying something,” Kazda said.
Before even finding out that they had won the whole event, Kazda explained what he thought of some of the other combos and schools who visited the festival.
“I actually recognized a couple of the out of state schools because there are kids from a summer camp I went to, Birch Creek, who were at those schools…We didn’t get to hear much of the combos, but knowing their school and knowing their programs, it was seriously a true honor to be up there with them,” Kazda said.
At the competition, the group’s setlist included Jig-A-Jug by Joshua Redman, Cherokee by Ray Noble, and St. James Infirmary (unknown composer, but popularized by Cab Calloway) (Links include Kazda’s recordings on his YouTube channel). All three of the charts were arranged by Kazda himself.
“He arranged all the music by himself. We did contribute some of our own ideas to the overall arrangements, but having us solo on specific pieces that we knew we were good at and highlighting some of our strengths and talents,” Iyer said.
Kazda was really the main leader and organizer of the group. He pulled all of the strengths of each performer and worked them together to create the award-winning performance at Rolling Meadows.
Earlier this year, the musicians competed at the North Shore Jazz Festival and took home third place amongst their combo division. At that competition, they played completely separate music compared to the one they played with at Rolling Meadows, which Kazda explains as pretty rare.
“That’s pretty uncommon for most highschool groups, they usually stick to the game pieces for every competition they do. But I wanted to challenge the combo a little more and just within 4 weeks we prepared three new tunes, three new arrangements, new solos, everything,” Kazda said.
With such a short amount of time to transition into a new arsenal of music, the combo had to work hard to prepare it to get it to the level. Bachara gave us his thoughts on what it was like to play these select charts.
“I think made really great selections, and especially with our last song played, St James. That song is more of a story than anything else,” Bachara said.
Even with five of the six members of the combo graduating in April, the musicians still plan on staying together to perform at more events and continue working with each other for a long time.