Jazzing up the Paramount

Published 6:59 am Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jacob Burkhardt performs in the Austin High School jazz band which will be taking part in the Paramount Jazz show next weekend. Photo provided

Jacob Burkhardt performs in the Austin High School jazz band which will be taking part in the Paramount Jazz show next weekend. Photo provided

Now that the holiday season is over, music in Austin will be taking a decidedly different path when it jazzes up early 2014 with the second annual Paramount Jazz concert on Sunday, Jan. 19.

Austin High School and Ellis Middle School jazz bands will be combining with the Austin Big Band and special guest, Twin Cities-based jazz artist Kenni Holmen to give Austin a remarkable music experience. The event is a fundraiser for Austin schools music and if last year’s first-time outing was any indication, it should be a good afternoon.

“It was very, very successful,” said Brad Mariska. “It was better than what we expected it to be. I wasn’t sure if anybody would come because we hadn’t done it before.”

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Around 400 people attended the concert, marking it a success in its first year. Expectations are high for this year.

“Our goal is to sell this concert out,” Mariska said. “We have room for about 550 people and we think it can and will sell out.”

 Growth of a program

The concert itself is a good indicator as to where the jazz band program has come in Austin which is a mark unto itself considering the style of jazz is so much different than what the students usually play.

“The style you play the notes is very different,” Mariska said. “When you ask a student to swing an eighth note instead of playing it, it’s a challenge. They aren’t as familiar with jazz and swing. To be able to play Jazz, you have to play it a lot and rehearse it a lot.”

That’s not taking into account the fluidity of the style; a style of music that’s able to change direction at a moment’s notice.

“You can open up sections in the middle of the song,” Mariska said. “Some of the solos are completely improvisational. It’s different from other concerts as the students are able to be creative and expressive.”

Having Holmen playing with the musicians will add an even more interesting note. Holmen will be meeting and playing with the students the day before as they prepare for the concert.

“[Kenni Holmen] is absolutely phenomenal, “ Mariska said. “I’m really excited.”

Holmen’s partnership with the concert was made possible through the Artist in Education grant through the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council (SEMAC).

Holmen’s participation in the concert is expected to add a bit playfulness the students might not be ready for.

“He’ll be playing Trading Fours,” Mariska explained. “Kenni will improvise for four measures and then will turn to a student and they will play. They will be completely making things up. It’s so much fun. It’s a good way to stretch themselves.”

 Growing talent

As the jazz side of the three bands grows, so does the connection between the bands themselves and the community, which is a huge step for Mariska who is in just his second year as band director in Austin, especially considering he didn’t know how this kind of music would be accepted.

“The feedback I’ve been hearing is very positive,” Mariska said. “Coming here, I didn’t know a ton about Austin. It was an opportunity for me professionally, but people really seem to be buying into the ensembles. It validates an aspect of what I believe should be in the high school band: Drawing community in and fun for the students.”

As the talent level increases — including a second jazz ensemble at the high school this year — so does the collaboration with the community and its musicians.

“I stress a lot with students, a band is like a community service project,” Mariska said. “We have a role to do things a lot of school organizations can’t do. Go out in the community and connect.”

“We’re excited to be collaborating with the Austin Big Band,” he went on to say. “All the ensembles that are being featured are Austin students and adults. It’s a very cool thing.”


Tickets are available through the Paramount Theatre box office. Call 507-434-0934 for more information. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students. Tickets will also be available the day of the show.