Students jazzed about new Forest Park ensemble

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Forest Park High School freshman Eli Berg plays a solo on the tenor saxophone during jazz band practice at the school in Ferdinand on Tuesday. Band Director Eric Obermeyer wanted to add a new element to the band program by bringing back the jazz band this year.


FERDINAND — To Mimi Lutz, jazz music feels like a warm hug from home.

The Forest Park High School sophomore feels that sensation while listening to Vince Guaraldi, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman — icons who contributed their musical genius to a genre that is all about coolness and fun.

Mimi’s grandfather loved Miller and Goodman, and her family plays Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown soundtracks around the holiday season.

For years, Mimi wanted to play piano in a jazz band. Thanks to a new ensemble at her Ferdinand high school, she finally has the chance.

A competitive jazz program launched at Forest Park after kids returned from winter break earlier this month. Twenty-six students of varying experience levels comprise the group, which consists of trumpets, trombones, saxophones and a rhythm section.

“It’s definitely good for our program to see more things,” said Emma Hall, a sophomore trumpet player in the group.

Director Eric Obermeyer has heard that the school briefly fielded a jazz band about two decades ago. He studied the genre extensively in college, and he intends to keep the current iteration of the ensemble around for years to come.

Forest Park High School sophomore Ava Widolff wears her bracelet that reads "Ya like jazz?" during jazz band practice at the school in Ferdinand on Tuesday. The quote is from the animated film, "Bee Movie." Ava and fellow saxophone players made the bracelets for the saxophone section during the marching band season.

In the future, he wants Forest Park to have a reputation of being more than just a marching band powerhouse. He wants the school to have a dynamite jazz program, too.

“It’s hard to come in and immediately make a name for myself doing marching band because it’s expected of me,” explained Obermeyer, who is in his first year as the band’s director. “But to be able to do something that’s totally brand new to everybody, that kind of helps make my own flair on things. Kind of give back in the community in a different way that they’re not really used to, but they still appreciate.”

The school’s jazz program is still in its infancy. Performers organized for their second-ever practice on Tuesday. Because the instrumentation is limited, many of them are picking up instruments they have little or no experience playing — a musical necessity that Obermeyer sees transforming participants into more experienced musicians.

“When you switch instruments, and when you switch styles, and stuff like that, it makes you become that much more adept,” he explained. “When you’re a well-rounded person, then you slowly start to get better at everything.”

Learning the distinct musical articulations of jazz will also help them grow, he said. He explained that a lot of marching band music is derived from the genre.

The new jazz band will perform in an Indiana State School Music Association event in March, and also play at the high school’s spring concert in May. In February 2021, the band will be part of a new, special community event that combines dining, live swing music and dance lessons.

Regardless of how the band performs at its competition later this year, just being part of the first jazz ensemble the school has offered in years is meaningful to senior Josie Berg.

She believes it will take off.

“It’s a lot more fun than just doing marching band and concert band for the rest of the year,” said Berg’s freshman brother, Eli.

Forest Park High School Band Director Eric Obermeyer instructs junior Michael Gregson on the drum set during jazz band practice at the school in Ferdinand on Tuesday.

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