City High Jazz Program Competes on the Road

City High Jazz Bands travel to Cedar Rapids and Chicago to perform and place at two events in one weekend


Callista Robertson

The City High Jazz Ensemble performs at the Coe College Jazz Summit in Cedar Rapids

The audience watches, enraptured, as the City High Jazz Ensemble plays through their repertoire, the room’s energy rising and falling in time with the rhythm and taking its audience with it. When they finish, there is a short pause, then the library in which they are playing erupts into cheers as the musicians stand up, smiling at their performance. 

Over the course of one weekend, members of the City High Jazz program traveled to and participated in two different jazz events: The Coe College Jazz Summit in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the Jazz in the Meadows competition in Illinois.

“I loved hearing all the groups perform,” Aaron Ottmar, director of three of the school’s four jazz bands, said. “It was such a blast to be with all of them as they made some awesome music [this weekend].”

On Thursday, February 24, City High’s top two jazz bands performed at the Coe College Jazz Summit in Cedar Rapids. Jazz Collective, the school’s upper level jazz band, earned second place in the second band class, with their drummer Noah Carey ‘23 being recognized as an honorable mention musician. The program’s highest level band, Jazz Ensemble, competed in class 4A and did not place.

“[Class 4A] is a very competitive class. With the way it’s set up, we don’t know exactly what place Ensemble got, because they only announced the top three. But I can tell you that they played very well,” Ottmar said.

The following morning of Friday, February 25, students boarded two charter buses setting off for Chicago, Illinois. There, the City High Jazz program performed at the Jazz in the Meadows competition at Rolling Meadows High School in Illinois.

“Going in, I wasn’t super confident that we were going to have a chance at placing [in the top three]. But after our performance, my mind was changed,” Manny Kaine ‘22 the baritone saxophone player in the City High Jazz Ensemble said. “[During that performance] we finally came together and really clicked.”

City High Jazz brought its top three bands to the event. Jazz Ensemble competed in the 2A class, earning a division 1 rating and placing third in its class. Jazz Collective competed in the second band class and earned third place with another division 1 rating. Jazz Lab, City High’s intermediate jazz band, performed as a non-competing group. 

“Part of playing at these other festivals is that you play in spaces you’re not really used to, so you kind of have to adapt to the environment around you,” Ottmar said. “I think considering that, all the groups did really, really well.”

Looking ahead, City High’s top two jazz bands will be competing at the SEIBA Jazz Festival on March 5 at Davenport Central High. If either qualifies, they will go on to the Iowa Jazz Championships in early April. Jazz Ensemble will also perform at the KCCK Corridor Jazz Project on March 9, and all four bands are looking ahead to the City High Jazz Showcase on April 2.

“As a group, [now] it’s back to the drawing board,” Kaine said. “Let’s rehearse. Let’s practice. Let’s focus. And let’s see if we can get back to that [musical] place again.”

The City High Jazz Bands will continue practicing in preparation for the rest of the season. 

“Honestly, all the bands are playing their best right now. It’s been a really busy last couple of weeks, including the end of second tri, but the bands are really bringing it right now,” Ottmar said. “I’m super excited to keep building upon that success leading into our upcoming performances.”