Bits 'N Pieces: Mountain View Jazz Band takes Windy City by storm

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Musicians tend to yearn for peak experiences — those special performances when all the behind-the-scenes work pays off, the music just soars, and the audience proves it by jumping to its feet.

The Mountain View High School Jazz Band sure enjoyed a peak experience at the Midwest Clinic, an invitation-only international conference of bands and orchestras that is held in Chicago every year. According to band director Sam Ormson, the Mountain View musicians really rose to the challenge — and were amply rewarded with memories to last a lifetime.

“The kids sacrificed many extra hours for rehearsals and sectionals, plus they spent tons of time listening and imitating to try and make their sounds match those of the numerous recordings of the music we were playing,” Ormson said. (They also did all their own fundraising — the school district was not asked for money for the trip to the Windy City).

After all that work, Ormson said he was feeling pretty confident that the band would have a “positive experience,” but that turned out to be putting it mildly. “I really had no idea how life-changing the performance would be,” he said.

For one thing, the band was joined by saxophone superstar and Grammy Award winner Jeff Coffin, best known for his amazing jams with the Dave Matthews Band. Ormson said his kids were star-struck by Coffin even before they started to play — but when the music began, “their collective heads exploded.” Other exciting onstage collaborators were Vancouver music instructor Pete Boulé, Scott Wilson of the University of Florida, and the Mountain View band’s other director, Eric Smedsrud.

The conference was Dec. 19 to 22, 2011. Check out a couple of the band’s performances at http://bit.ly/wokR9O, and http://bit.ly/Ah0klb.

“For every musician, there are indelible moments that are seared into their memories, watershed moments that they will forever recall with clarity and perfection no matter how much time may pass,” Ormson said. This was definitely one of those unforgettable moments, he said.

Hyperbole? Apparently not. There were two standing ovations for the band and two curtain calls for Ormson. After the performance, Ormson heard comments like, “The best high school performance I have ever seen,” and, “The highlight of my entire conference, thank you!” Perhaps most touching was an email message Ormson received from husband-and-wife band directors from Wisconsin who reported tearing up at the “pure joy on the faces of the kids after the rousing standing O, and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

You can see the band perform at 11:40 a.m. Saturday, during the Clark College Jazz Festival at the college, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way.

— Scott Hewitt

Bits ’n’ Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you’d like to share, call Ruth Zschomler, 360-735-4530, or email ruth.zschomler@columbian.com.