BEMIDJI -- A talented group of young musicians will provide dance tunes for the Beltrami County Historical Society’s annual fall fundraiser this weekend, and they’ll do so pretty much on their own.
The Bemidji High School Jazz Combo, a student-led band, is working on a music that’s appropriate for “Dining & Dancing in a Decade,” the theme for Saturday night’s event at the Bemidji Eagles Club. That decade happens to be the 1920s.
“We’re still working out our set list,” said the group’s leader, high school junior Joel Roberts. “But there’s one called ‘Misty,’ that’s kind of an old piece that’s my personal favorite.”
Roberts, who plays tenor saxophone, was in the BHS Jazz Combo last year. After two of the group’s leaders graduated, he stepped in at the urging of Derek Wickum, the school’s band director.
“Mr. Wickum was like, ‘Hey Joel, I need you to put something together for Saturday.’ So I kind of got put on the spot a little bit.”
He called on fellow musicians to start preparing for Saturday’s gig. They include senior Ryan Pfleger on drums, senior Korben Ward on guitar, junior Logan Frericks on bass, junior Hayden Hommes on piano, sophomore Kyler Gonzalez on trombone and sophomore Camden Bunker on alto saxophone.
“For jazz combo type stuff you have to have some knowledge of how to improvise and jam a little bit,” Roberts said. “So it’s kind of the people who are proficient at that kind of thing. Some people are really big on that; some are like ‘I don’t want to stand up and solo.’”
Roberts also is in the school’s concert band, jazz band and show choir band. He also is an Eagle Scout, and helped his brother, Daniel, install musical components at Bemidji’s inclusive playground at Paul Bunyan Park. Daniel’s Eagle Scout project raised funds to purchase the equipment.
Joel got his start in sixth grade when he picked up his mother’s old saxophone and took lessons from Linda Barber at Bemidji Middle School. “It was a blast, so I kept going with it,” he said. “It’s what I love to do.”
Wickum said BHS has had a Jazz Combo in the past, but it doesn’t happen every year.
“When you have the right group of kids you can put something like this together,” he said. “These kids like to play and they understand the structure of how jazz works. They’re just go-getters. Each one of them is at a different point in their journey, but they’re all really into doing it together.”
Roberts said the group is excited to take their music out of the classroom and into the community for Saturday’s fundraiser.
“The cool thing about jazz is it gives you freedom to express yourself a little more, like with the improvisation. You’ve got a loose kind of structure that you have to stick with, but it’s pretty open. It’s like you’re having a conversation. It’s a lot of fun.”
If you go:
What: Dining & Dancing in a Decade (1920s), a fundraiser for the Beltrami County Historical Society
When: Saturday, Oct. 26. Social hour at 5:30 p.m., dinner at 6, presentation at 7, dancing at 9
Where: Bemidji Eagles Club, 1270 Neilson Ave. SE.
Tickets: $60 available at Beltrami County History Center, by phone at 444-3376 or online at https://squareup.com/store/beltramihistory/item/annual-fall-fundraiser