“The more music we play, the more people will dance, and then those people will go teach others to dance. Suddenly the whole world will be dancing. Suddenly the world will be a much better place.”
– Motto of the High Street Jazz Band
When the High Street Jazz Band performed in Marlinton last year, people didn’t know what to expect. Word got around, though, and this year, the high-energy New Orleans jazz band had a much larger crowd dancing in the aisles and in the streets. A group of students from High Rocks Academy added their unbridled energy into the mix.
Young and old joined together in a wonderful celebration as the band performed rousing jazz classics like Hold That Tiger, I Hear You Knockin’, I’ll Fly Away, When The Saints Come Marching In and Bourbon Street. To conclude the show, the band played a toe-tapping medley and marched out the front doors of the Opera House – leading the crowd on a musical march through downtown Marlinton – in the pouring rain.
The High Street Jazz Band is composed of members and former members of the West Virginia University Marching Band. The original group started playing on Friday nights on Morgantown’s raucous High Street. They put out hats and empty instrument cases to collect donations for various causes. Eventually, they made enough money to go on the road and perform benefit concerts. Their goals are to support worthy causes and build appreciation of New Orleans jazz.
Trombonist Kenneth Johnson said New Orleans jazz has inspired other types of music.
“New Orleans jazz is popular with certain crowds, but for the most part, it has a very specific audience,” he said. “It’s branched off into a whole bunch of different sub-genres. There’s just New Orleans brass bands, the traditional stuff. We try to play the traditional stuff but there’s all kinds of stuff branching out from it. There’s stuff that has funk inspiration. There’s all kinds of fusions of it with other jazz genres and rock genres too.”
The trombonist said traditional jazz from the Crescent City is making a comeback.
“People are doing this all over the country,” he said. “We’ve made connections with other groups around the country. There’s sort of a rebirth in this type of music right now. There’s certainly a revival of this sort of music going on.”
Sousaphone player and lead singer John Fitzmaurice graduated from WVU last year and now teaches elementary music in Nicholas County. Fitzmaurice said New Orleans jazz has a different beat.
“When you hear it, it’s something different than you hear from a rock band or a concert band,” he said. “It has a very strong feel because it has a syncopated fourth beat in it, and it’s one of the only genres in music that has that. It makes you want to move. It makes that connection because it’s such a happy music and it has that syncopation that differs from other types of music.”
Prior to the Opera House concert, High Street Jazz played a concert at Pocahontas Center and led a parade through the halls of the center. Most of the band’s concerts are for charity. Proceeds from Friday night’s ticket sales were donated to the Opera House. The band has held benefit concerts for 4H clubs, arts groups, animal shelters, schools, museums and other organizations.
Saxophone player Jamal Davidson is graduating this year and will be attending graduate school in Texas.
“We do recruit new members,” he said. “Since we’re all music majors, we try to find people in that range. Anyone’s welcome to join. This past semester, we tried to get some of our freshmen who just came in. We just ask people who seem to enjoy us, who have some background knowledge in jazz, and try to incorporate them into some of our practices.”
Despite leaving the green mountains of West Virginia to pursue his education, Davidson says he’s not leaving the band.
“We come and go but you never really leave the group,” he said. “You’re just on temporary leave sometimes.”
The High Street Jazz Band has a Facebook page, where they post dates and times for upcoming performances.