MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A group of West Virginia University students enjoy spending their Friday evenings playing New Orleans style jazz music in downtown Morgantown. The High Street Jazz Band is bringing Dixieland sounds to the streets of West Virginia.Walking along High Street on a Friday night, around 10 p.m., you can hear the sounds of the jazz band playing somewhere near you.It's the sound of the saxophone, tuba, clarinet, and many other big band jazz instruments.As the band plays a song on the sidewalk of High Street, passersby stop to listen.John Fitzmaurice is a student at WVU, and he's a member of the band.He's got a tuba wrapped around him like a snake. He acts as a leader for the band.While they play, he makes hand gestures to give directions to the musicians. These tell a person to start or end a solo, and tell the group to end a song."We actually started out in 2010, a bunch of us music ed guys got together, and put it together. Going strong for two years now," Fitzmaurice said.
"We really believe as a band to make a place better than what we found it. We're doing that through music, and that's the best way we know how to do that."During their performances each Friday night, the band will walk down the street to play on a different part of High Street. A new crowd gathers.Alex Higgins plays the trumpet in the band. He says it's great to receive support from the community when the band comes out to play."The people that come out and they hear it, and they all have positive attitudes, some of them start dancing and everything. It's a lot of fun playing to them. Every once in a while, we will have kids come through and they are just amazed at what we do, and they have a lot of fun. That's what I love the most about it," said Higgins.
The band's choices of songs include instrumental numbers and songs with lyrics. The band members usually sing the songs together.The band plays without having music sheets with them, so spontaneity and improvisation are welcomed during the sessions."The first time I came out, I was terrified, and my first solo was just awful. Just plain awful. But it's kind of freeing to be able to do what you want to do, and express yourself however you want," Higgins said.
"Everything we learn is by ear. We don't have any music written down. We just learn the notes, play it out. We rehearse every Friday night before we come out."The music called Dixieland jazz was introduced to many of these band members when they were in high school, playing in school jazz bands.Anne Stickley is a trombone player in the High Street Jazz Band."Jazz was always something I was interested in, I have played jazz for a while, but this is definitely the most comprehensive jazz experience I've gotten," she said."It has helped me so much as a player. I'm a sophomore, and my senior year of high school, I came up to take my audition. While I was waiting for my audition, they had student ensembles playing, and High Street Jazz was one of them. I thought that was so unique, it was something I hadn't seen at any other university," she said.The band is now contributing to the genre, composing its own songs, including one called "High Street Parade."
The band usually plays from 10 to 11 or 11:30 p.m., depending on the size of the crowd and the weather.There are 12 people in the High Street Jazz Band.John Fitzmaurice says people come and go from the band, but the group just keeps playing.