Jazz Society sets fundraiser

Performers take to the stage for the opening night of the 56th Annual West Texas Jazz Party June 3, 2022, at the Marriott Hotel. To help raise funds for educational outreach, the West Texas Jazz Society is hosting The Big Band Holiday Ball Dec. 16, 2023, at the Petroleum Club in Midland. (Odessa American File Photo)

To help raise funds for educational outreach, the West Texas Jazz Society is hosting The Big Band Holiday Ball Dec. 16 at the Petroleum Club in Midland.

Cocktail hour starts at 6 p.m.; dinner at 7 p.m. and the music goes from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. General admission tickets are $100, including dinner. There are also various sponsorship levels. There is a $500 sponsor level, which is good for two tickets and helps cover the cost of some of the band musicians that will be playing here.

There is also a VIP table option, which is $1,500 for eight people and includes some drink tickets and complementary engraved wine glasses as a special gift from the Jazz Society to its patrons.

There is a $5,000 level, which includes eight seats, 16 drink tickets, special shoutouts and perks from the band that night.

There will be a 17-piece big band of local and area musicians, which isn’t something that many people get to hear regularly, West Texas Jazz Society President Eric Baker said. Meant to remind of the era of Bing Crosby and Judy Garland, the band will include five saxophones, three trombones, three trumpets, drums, bass, guitar, piano and Baker and his wife, Emily, on vocals.

“This is a fundraising event for the West Texas Jazz Society. We are going to be putting the proceeds to further our educational outreach programs,” said Baker, who is director of Community Engagement in Music and Visual Arts at University of Texas Permian Basin.

There are two main things the society does for educational outreach.

“One is our annual from Bebop to Hip Hop concert series. That’s scheduled for Jan. 15 through the 19th. We bring in 10 Los Angeles film, TV recording artists, session musicians, and put on an educational show where we link today’s music that young people like back through the lineage of jazz,” Baker said.

“We point to the fact that the music they like has value. And it’s totally fine for young people to like the music of their time, but we like to show them that they would probably also like jazz music because it’s all linked together. We give them different styles of music. The students really like it because those particular artists are all of the musicians that they’ve probably heard before. They just didn’t know it, so we show them that these people have played on Disney, Pixar and other Marvel films and whatnot. I think that’s pretty special,” Baker added.

Quarterly jazz jam sessions are another part of the educational outreach. This is where the Jazz Society puts together a small house band and invites young people that are primarily high school and college students to perform, improvise and play music together.

“We’ve really seen an increase in our young people’s engagement in the Jazz Society through those jazz jams,” Baker said.

There is music that young people haven’t heard before that they don’t know is jazz. Baker said jazz can be a pretty wide term with lots of different genres such as Afro Cuban jazz, Latin jazz and the Great American Songbook.

“Then you have the music of Miles Davis and the cool and Bebop eras, and even modern music and modern artists are still continuing that tradition. I think of people like Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Buble, who have crossed over into more of a popular style with their jazz roots. All of this music is included under that umbrella term of jazz and there’s something for everyone,” Baker said.

He added that there are a good number of jazz musicians in the area, many of whom double in different groups. One of our saxophone players is the principal flute player in the West Texas Symphony, Lyndsay Eiben. She also teaches at University of Texas Permian Basin.

Stewart Rhodes and Ethan Wills will be in the trombone section, both of whom are associated with the Symphony.

“I’ve got a few guests, a few friends of mine from Abilene that I’ve invited to come out for this one. One is Dr. Jeff Cottrell and the next is a trumpet player, Bill Barrett … a friend from Abilene that will be coming in for this. … The music will be a mix of some traditional jazz music, think Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and really great, classic arrangements of holiday favorites. We’re working on getting a special dance exhibition from a couple of professional ballroom dancers who will also be there. People don’t have to be ballroom dancers, or even like to dance, to enjoy the event. But there will be a good contingent of people who want to come out and hear that music because they do love to dance and do traditional foxtrots, rumbas and waltzes. I think during the break, we’re going to work on a special exhibition of these professional dancers that people can come watch and see, which should be a lot of fun,” Baker said.

The first Big Band Holiday Ball was held two years ago.

“It’s good to bring it back,” Baker said. “We’re glad to be back. Two years ago, it went off very well. People really liked it, so we made sure to plan for that this year.”

It takes nearly two years to plan one of these events.

“It’s pretty easy to work with the (Petroleum) Club, but getting everybody’s schedules aligned, especially musicians in December, is quite a difficult task, so I’m so thankful that everyone said yes, I definitely want to do that again,” Baker said.

If people don’t want to attend, but are interested in contributing and donating to the Jazz Society, they can become a member on the Society website, or by donating on the website at wtjs.org. They are a 501c3 corporation, so all the gifts are tax deductible.

“If people want to just get involved and support by coming to more events, of course, we’d steer them to our website or to our Facebook and Instagram channels so that they can see what’s coming up next. After the big band dance, we’ll have the Bebop to Hip Hop in January. And then of course the 58th Annual Jazz Party will be in June,” Baker said.

The Bebop to Hip Hop experience will be at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center and some of the schools.

There will also be a public performance in January.