Jazz Ensemble Wraps Up the Competition Season at State

The Top City High Performing Jazz Group was one of 15 4A bands to qualify for the State Jazz Championships


Edward Kenyon

Marcus Miller ’23 solos during a Jazz Ensemble performance at the Liberty Jazz Festival

Matisse Arnone, Reporter

The turn of the seasons from winter to spring signals lots of changes in the air. In addition to new sports and warmer weather, it is also a sign that the jazz competition season is coming to an end. After four competitive performances spanning two months, the City High Jazz Ensemble has its final competition at the State Jazz Championships after placing second in the SEIBA district competition. Janie Owens ‘25 is in Jazz Ensemble for the first time this year, and she has seen everyone in the group step up to the increased level of difficulty that the music presents.

“I think it takes more focus to get through some of the songs, and you just have to think about what you’re doing and be exactly precise with what you’re doing,” Owens said.

Director Aaron Ottmar has also noticed his members stepping up to the challenge and performing well against tough competition this year.

“It’s very competitive for sure, but I would say our groups are doing a nice job and we’re in a very good spot,” Ottmar said. “I keep preaching to folks that we don’t want to be complacent and to keep finding things to refine and polish.”

One of the biggest challenges that Ottmar has seen jazz bands of the past face is accepting the level at which they perform. Because the bands play the same music the entire year, he says that it is easy to fall into a rut and stop trying to improve anymore. He has seen this year’s group take ownership of the feedback they get from judges after performances and work to get better.

“It’s hard when you play the same music over and over to try and find new things, but that’s why we like listening to judges, and seeing what feedback they have,” Ottmar said. “I think next-level musicians are always able to find something that they can keep working on, and get that much more nitpicky. You get the big picture, and then from that point, you keep zoning in on what’s most important and keep tweaking things so it’s polished.”

Finding a new mindset about the music performance has helped Maya Bennett ‘23 play through the entire season. She views every time she plays the music as a new chance to interpret the performance of it differently.

“I think that every time you perform, it’s a little bit of a different experience, whether that be the space that we’re performing in, the audience, or the energy we have. Ottmar is also really good at choosing exciting charts that we can make our own throughout the season,” Bennett said.

To prepare for competitions, Ottmar likes to make recordings with his groups so that they can be self-reflective as opposed to just responding to what other people tell them to do. In addition to the opportunity to perform in a new environment, he sees going to competitions as extremely beneficial to students’ growth as musicians.

“Some people would say that competitions are not good, and I think there are certain aspects that may not be always helpful, but what I do like, especially with the festivals that we go to, is that you get a lot of great feedback from high-quality musicians and educators,” Ottmar says. “I don’t worry as much about the place or the trophy, it’s all about how you grow as a musician so that’s why I like taking students to a lot of different places.”

Bennett agrees with the benefits of competition and also thinks that it can be incredibly motivating to see other groups from across the state get to show off the jazz programs at their schools, too.

“We get to hear other schools in the same division or higher division, and that exposes us to musical diversity in instruments and skill.,” Bennett said. “I think that’s been beneficial for us and the jazz program.”

The benefits of competition came to fruition after City High placed 6th out of 15 bands in class 4A, including beating West High whom they had previously lost to. More than anything, though, Ottmar hopes that his students learn to care less about the trophies and the places and more about the experience of getting to play with other passionate high school musicians.

“I think probably most importantly, my opinion is that competitions create wonderful memories for lots of students that they’ll have with them for a long time,” Ottmar said.