It all began with a dream.
When I was student teaching at D.A. Smith Middle School and Carroll High School in Ozark, I was greatly influenced by the jazz program there. Their directors, David Bolich and Malcolm Kemp, were two of the greatest band directors I’d ever met and, to this day, I believe they are the most underappreciated band directors in the state.
Dave had a jazz festival at the Flowers Center in Ozark. It wasn’t for money as much as it was for kids to make music for one another and enjoy college and pro groups.
Tallassee had lost its jazz program years ago but I was determined to bring it back. And so, back in the 2008-09 school year, a few faithful students were willing to give it a chance. We had maybe five or six in our combo, which involved me playing the missing parts on piano or whatever instrument was available.
The next year, the jazz band was a going concern. The administration had given us a real class period and we had a great group of students who were interested in learning about jazz.
Enter Sgt. Mike Hammonds.
I met Mike in high school when we attended the Southeastern United States Honor Band at Troy University. Several Tallassee students of that era were there. My band director and Tallassee’s band director were friends, and Mike was put in the hotel room with the guys from Robert E. Lee High School.
To be honest, we weren’t sure what to think. Mike was so enthusiastic about band and had an encyclopedic knowledge of classical and jazz music. One had to peel him off the ceiling once he got started talking so excitedly about his love for band.
Flash forward to 2010. I contacted Mike, now out of the U.S. Army and living in Montgomery, and asked him to come back home and help get the jazz band going. He visited one morning and worked with the concert band class. This was one of the best groups I’d ever had and he seemed impressed with them.
Before the day was over, Mike was packing his bags and moving back to Tallassee.
Matthew Monson, now the principal of LAMP High School in Montgomery but a history teacher at Southside back then, and Billy Green, now the director of the 313th Army Band but at the time an intern at SMS, both were instrumental in helping with the jazz band that year.
The next year, 2010-11, the jazz band really started taking off. We had enough students to make two complete jazz bands at Southside.
I was back at the Southeastern Clinic at Troy that year and was speaking with Ray Smith, who was the jazz band director at Troy, and explained how our program had grown exponentially. Then he said the magic words:
“Let’s put on a show.”
Ray offered to bring the Troy University jazz band to Tallassee. We sent out invitations and wound up with bands from all over the state. We even hosted both the Auburn University and University of Alabama bands on that tiny stage in the SMS gymnasium.
We are pleased to bring you this year’s Tallassee JazzFest on Friday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Tallassee High School. Along with Auburn University, we are hosting Prattville High School, Pike County High School, the 313th Army Band and Huntingdon College, along with the jazz ensembles from Southside Middle School and Tallassee High School.
The event is free. All we ask is that you support our program by purchasing concessions and maybe dropping a donation in the bucket at some point during the evening.