For the eighth time in 10 years, the jazz band from Cooper Middle School in Buffalo Grove won the junior high division at Jazz in the Meadows, the recent music festival at Rolling Meadows High School.
Cooper's latest title was its second in as many months. In January, the band took first place among middle school bands at the North Shore Jazz Festival and this weekend it returns to the Mundelein Jazz Festival as the featured middle school ensemble after they won the competition last year.
Jazz band leader Cindy Severino, who grew up in Wheeling and attended Holmes Middle School and Wheeling High School, is a product of the music program at Wheeling Township Elementary District 21.
"I grew up playing in competitions like these," she says, "and it continues to be an important part of the musical education in the Cooper jazz program.
"It motivates the kids to work really, really hard," she adds. "Traveling to all these festivals creates camaraderie. We're like a family."
Eighth-grade alto saxophone player Anthony Sorgani feels that camaraderie and doesn't want to let his classmates down. He described the time early in the year when he dropped some of his music from his stand.
During the next few measures, his classmates in the saxophone section felt lost and asked him where he was.
"I know they are following my lead," Anthony says. "It makes me realize that I have to play my best; otherwise they can't play their best."
Cooper students begin in the second jazz band, led by Kathleen Logan. That's where they start to learn the different jazz styles, including fundamentals and how to improvise.
"Playing in jazz band has really made me open to other styles of music," Anthony adds. "It's broadened my horizons, I guess you could say."
Severino leads the first jazz band, where she stresses learning blues scales and chord changes to give students the basic structure for creating their solos.
"Students work on their confidence and listening skills to create a melody that will fit in the piece we are playing," she said.
Mark Poirer plays a solo on his tenor sax in all three of the band's competition pieces.
"That's one of the reasons I picked tenor sax," Mark says. "It's a midrange instrument that kind of flip-flops between playing the melody and helping out the lower brass section. It gives you a lot of opportunities for solos."
Their competition set includes three swing numbers arranged in the big band style.
They open by playing "Prime Time," arranged by Howard Rowe. It features soloists: Mark Poirer and Alexis Opperman on tenor sax, Eric Benson and Christian Sanford on trombone, and Harrison Park on trumpet.
Their second number, "Metropole," is another hit arranged by Rowe, who is an active composer and performer. It features Dasha Yermol and Anthony Sorgani on alto sax, Christian Sanford on trombone and Mark Poirier on tenor sax.
The band closes with a rousing rendition of "Bye Bye Blackbird," arranged by Kris Berg and featuring Jack Merrill on guitar, Anthony Sorgani on alto, and Max Mateja on piano.
"We exaggerate everything, from the piano crescendos and fortes, to the quieter dynamics," Mark adds."We like to go out with a bang, so we play it as strong as possible."