More than 50 Abilene ISD band students had an opportunity to hear some of the finest jazz musicians in the country on Jan. 20, when they traveled to Midland to attend an educational performance by the West Texas Jazz Society.

The presentation – Jazz and Beyond – featured brass, woodwind, percussion, and guitar performers who have played in film score orchestras and for the Grammy and Emmy award shows.  These “A-list” performers, mainly from Los Angeles, have recorded and toured with performers like Barry Manilow, Lady Gaga, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Snoop Dogg, Tom Jones, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Pink, Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole, Green Day, Herb Alpert, Phil Collins, Neil Diamond, Ray Charles, Frankie Valli, and Michael Buble. Many have performed for shows such as The Simpsons, The Tonight Show, American Idol, and Good Morning America.

Among the performers, vocalist Jarrett Johnson and pianist Wally Minko have both been nominated for Grammy Awards for their extraordinary work. Johnson, currently on tour with Buble, has performed at numerous iconic venues, including The Apollo, The Kennedy Center, The Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall.

The AISD students were afforded the chance to hear the group of musicians, thanks to a connection with AISD Executive Director of Fine Arts Jay Lester, who led the group of 52 students and four band directors. West Texas Jazz Society member Eric Baker invited the AISD students to the performance at the Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center in Midland. The WTJS offered the district a grant to help with transportation costs.

“It was a joy to expose our students to this level of performance and show them how various jazz styles are incorporated into the pop, rock and film music of today,” said Lester, who was joined on the trip by Cooper band director John Landin, AHS band director Jonathan Kraemer, Clack Middle School band director Peral Gonzales, and Craig Middle School band director Dale Pfrimmer. “The students loved hearing a historical walk-through of jazz and how each era provided innovations in the genre.”

The students learned about doo-wop, be-bop, funk, blues, rock, Latin, and pop styles, and each of them had an accompanying song that featured instrumental soloists. Five songs featured vocalists, including Johnson and Emily Baker, who performed with the Grammy Award-winning gospel group “God’s Property.”

Following the performance, several students and directors were interviewed by Basin PBS for upcoming commercials and promotional material.