Underwood HS Jazz Band More than 1,500 students from 60 Iowa high schools are in Des Moines today for the 2008 Iowa Jazz Band Championships.

Organizers say the festival is the largest one-day event of it’s kind in the nation. Andrew Classen teaches jazz studies at Drake University and is one of 12 judges watching today’s performances.

“The key thing is that they play with good style…that we hear good swing feel out of the ensemble, and appropriate styles for the rest of the tunes they do,” Classen said. “They should have a good balance, a good blend. Then there’s an improvisational component, which is unique to jazz.” Classen says he appreciates the fact that both the very large school districts in the state, and the very small, all have jazz band programs.

“It’s turned more and more kids onto jazz. So whether or not they continue to play, and I certainly hope they do, hopefully they’ll have a greater appreciation for jazz, become active audience members, and also understand the work ethic it takes to achieve excellence,” Classen said.

The 60 bands involved in today’s festival qualified through district competitions and are divided by school size into four different classes. The top two bands in each class perform tonight at the Des Moines Civic Center, where five judges will then select four state champions. 

Audio: Underwood High School Jazz Band performance. 2:57 MP3