Jazz Syndicate secures third at the Iowa Jazz Championship

Senad Besic, Opinion Editor

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The top jazz band, Syndicate, performed March 31 at the Iowa Jazz Championships which was hosted downtown at the Civic Center. They placed third among a total of 15 bands with other metro bands like Valley and Waukee getting first and second respectively.

The band went through some big changes due to a considerable amount of seniors graduating from the previous year. Syndicate entered their competition season this year with a new tenor sax and trombone player, and an entirely new trumpet section.

To even perform at the Iowa Jazz Championships is known to be a great honor. They take the top two bands from six different districts and three wildcard bands. To find the top two from each district, the districts hold a competition where they take the top two placements. This year, Valley and Waukee were the top two bands from Johnston’s South Central district. To find the wildcards, a committee gets together and looks over all the competitions throughout the year and find the three bands who are the most deserving, based on their placements throughout the year. Syndicate was a wildcard this year.

“Our district (south central) is arguably the toughest district in the state because there are so many good 4A bands” Syndicate director Jeffrey Robilliard said. “That’s notable because the top three bands in the state this year were all out of this district.”

Jazz bands are judged upon many different things. Good tone quality, balance and blend, good rhythmic pulse, these are universal among all types of band performances. But for jazz band, solo improvisation is a huge component of what the judges are looking for. Jazz is at its roots, improvisation. This is what sets Jazz band aside from marching band, which has a huge visual aspect, and concert band, which is about core musical quality.

To be even more specific, the ensemble, as a whole, is judged for 50% of the ballot, another 25% is specifically for the rhythm section (piano, bass, drums) since they are the heart and soul of the jazz band. And the last 25% is solo improvisation, so all the soloists collectively get one score based on how well they all do.

Syndicate’s atmosphere this year was very satiric.

“It’s a very sarcastic setting” Sophomore Syndicate member Kyle Burgess said. “Mr. Robilliard is a really good director in the fact that that he inspires greatness without being overwhelming.”

All of the members this year did a lot to prepare for all of their competitions. Syndicate met every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 6:45 a.m. for practice. They also organized sectionals, and made many audio recordings to prepare for this season.

“This group is more cohesive than other groups that I have had, and because of that it creates a better bond” Robilliard said. “They rehearse better and they play better just because they are a more close-knit ensemble.”

Along with being a light-hearted and close group, they also created a running joke for the season. The last two years Syndicate placed 7th at the Iowa Jazz Championships which spurred the formation of the joke: “road to seventh”, meaning that the band was jokingly shooting for seventh place at the Iowa Jazz Championships again. Occasionally some of the members would tweet pictures or words and use the #RoadtoSeventh. Robilliard found out about the joke about halfway through the season.

“I just think it’s funny, but you just have to be careful about how much stock you put into the placement,” Robilliard said. “Because music is subjective. If we would have had three different judges that day, the results would have been different.”

However, their placement was never a concern for Syndicate.

“I want the ultimate goal for us to be really good at what we do,” Robilliard said. “And that when people listen to us, they really enjoy it and they want to hear us again because they’re in amazement of how good of a group that they are. It has nothing to do with what placement we get.”

Maximizing their musical ability and producing good music were the goals of Syndicate.

“Every member in syndicate cares about how we do and are perceived.” Burgess said.

“At the end of the day I just want to put together a group that we feel good about, we can look back and say we maxed out on every opportunity that we had and that we feel good about that.” Robilliard said.

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