Urban Jazz Bands rock Super Bowl City

This year, the Super Bowl took place at Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, in Santa Clara, Calif.  Thousands of fans flocked to San Francisco for the famous sights and the pregame festivities. While Verizon’s Super Bowl City presented many different sights and sounds for fans and residents alike, as well as an increase in traffic congestion, it is certain that one of its featured performances was particularly exciting for the Urban School. On Thursday, Feb. 4, Urban’s Lab and Advanced Jazz bands performed for the masses on CBS Sports’ miniature turf football field at Super Bowl City.

From Jan. 30-Feb. 7, the Verizon-sponsored Super Bowl City occupied roughly three blocks of Market Street, the Justin Herman Plaza, in front of the iconic Ferry Building, and Sue Bierman Park, among others. The event was free to the public, with various activities, including a zipline from a scaled down Golden Gate Bridge tower, and concerts over the course of the nine days. The concerts featured Alicia Keys, Chris Isaak, Aloe Blacc, the Band Perry, and of course, the Urban School Jazz Bands. Verizon’s Super Bowl City aimed to be “Loud, proud, inclusive and authentic, just like the Bay Area itself” according to its website.

According to David Boyce, director of the Urban School Jazz Lab Band, he was emailed by a representative of the event in early January with the offer to play at Super Bowl City.

“It’s funny, I get these emails from time to time, where people think I’m Scott, the director, and it’s bizarre, and usually I don’t forward them because they’re weird requests,” said Boyce. Upon reading the request for a scholastic jazz band to play, he sent it along to Scott Foster, the director of the Urban Advanced Band.

“The biggest excitement for me personally was to be tracked down. They were looking for talent and our name came to the top of the list,” said Foster. Foster hoped that the band would “have a good time and … make memories, so that they can get fired up and get the juju going” for future performances.

“We talked about it and we thought it would be an interesting experience for these guys to schlep all their gear down here amidst the chaos. It’s a good learning experience for young musicians, how to play in weird contexts and weird situations,” said Boyce.

While all of the students interviewed felt very well prepared to perform, having roughly four months worth of practice time under their belts, some students were disappointed that there was not enough excitement about the event from the rest of the school.

“There needs to be a lot more promotion. We have a lot of promotion for sports but not as much for musical performances,” said alto, tenor, soprano saxophone and clarinet player Aiden Bryan (’16), who has been a member of the advanced band for three years.

“Nobody really talks about jazz performances. Performances should be as pumped up and as advertised as sports events,” said alto and baritone saxophone player Chloe Parker (‘16), another member of the advanced band for 3 years. Both Bryan and Parker believed that performing before more familiar faces would connect the Urban School more closely to its musical programs.

The Lab and Advanced Bands played songs that they had prepared for their Winter Concert at the Herbst Theater in December. The Lab Band performed Miles Davis’ Gingerbread Boy while the Advanced Band performed Sing Sing Sing by Benny Goodman, Come Sunday by Duke Ellington, and Trombone Shorty’s Hurricane Season. They occupied half of the northern end zone of the turf field, and were able to set up an entire drum set, multiple amplifiers, and ten music stands. The performers played guitars, basses, trumpets, trombones, saxophones, a Launchpad midi controller, and a flute. Every piece of equipment used to perform was brought to the field and back by the performers and instructors.

Many students thought that their performance went successfully both from a performance standpoint and from a promotional standpoint. They highlighted that performing in an exposed, outdoor environment definitely differed from their normal venues.

Tavi DeLeon (‘19) who plays trombone for the Lab Band felt that, because of the different setting, the band was challenged to work more as a unit.

“It is … a different experience from the other [performances] because usually we have prep time and … people can actually tell you how loud you should be,” said DeLeon. “At this one, it’s outdoors, we had less time to prepare, so a lot of it was ‘check each other,’ talk to each other more, and be more of a unit. It went well in that sense, that we were more adaptive.”

Austin Brenner (‘16), who has played the vibraphone and guitar for the Advanced Band for four months, discussed how important it is for the jazz bands to get out of their comfort zones and promote what they’re doing.

“Jazz band is good and fun … and it’s good that we get to play shows for our families like twice a year, but I think it’s cool that there are opportunities for us to go play shows out in the city and not just be part of our bubble, and rep the school,” said Brenner.

Mostly importantly, however, it seems that one of the band’s biggest triumphs was showing the power of a high school music program.

“I think it’s always good to show people that band programs still exist, music is still in schools, private as well as public schools. It’s good for everyone to know that these kids are in high school and they’re playing music,” said Boyce.