Tonight, the Waxahachie High School jazz band will perform the first in a series of holiday concerts to take place at the school’s Fine Arts Center through Tuesday, Dec. 18.

Each May, Waxahachie ISD band students entering the ninth- through 12th-grades audition for placement in one of three concert bands: wind ensemble, symphonic and concert, with the wind ensemble being the “top” band. At that same time of year, a separate audition takes place for students wishing to participate in the jazz band.

There are other opportunities for band members, as well, including those who volunteer to play for WHS theatrical productions and a select group of jazz band members who are hand-picked by band department director Rich Armstrong to participate in the jazz combo.

All band students in ninth through 12th grade participate in marching band.

So what makes the jazz band different from one of the concert bands?

“It’s a different style of music. It is a smaller group,” said senior and trumpet player Matt Neal, who was a member of the jazz band last year and again this year. This is Neal’s fourth year as a member of the wind ensemble concert band, as well.

Neal said the concert band plays “concert literature” but the jazz band plays a wide variety of music.

“We’ll play anything from bee-bop to funk, swing, Latin jazz and big band music from the ’20s and ’30s,” said Neal of the style of music played by the jazz band.

For students who have an available class period during the day, jazz band is offered as a class during the day, explained Neal.

“But we also meet as a band after school about once a week,” said Neal, who pointed out that other practices include weekly sectionals and more frequent rehearsals closer to upcoming concerts and performances.

Neal said members of the jazz band have more opportunities to perform for the community than the concert bands because the jazz band is smaller and more manageable with regard to transportation and other logistics.

“It’s a unique program,” said Neal of the jazz orchestra concert to be held tonight.

“We’re playing a wide variety of music and I believe that we’ll even be playing a piece that we will play for the Jazz Caf/ (in February) and so that will be kind of a preview.”

Senior and trombone player Cody Ground is in his third year in the wind ensemble concert band and second year in the jazz band.

The jazz band includes some instruments not found in the other bands. For the first time this year, the marching band included a bass player. But the jazz band has always included a bass player, as well as musicians who play the guitar, piano and drum set. All other bands utilize a percussion section, but the jazz band includes one person on a drum set.

“To me, all (jazz band) concerts are fun because we play music that is so different,” said Ground, comparing jazz band music with concert band music.

“It’s a completely different style of music because it offers something that is completely different than concert band,” said Ground, who pointed out that those attending the concert will “hear the difference.”

“I like jazz band because it offers a completely different experience than the concert band,” Ground said.

Now a senior, this will be the fourth year for tenor saxophone player Corbin Edgington to participate in the wind ensemble concert band and the jazz band, although his freshman year he participated in those bands at another school prior to transferring to WHS. This is also Edgington’s second year to participate in jazz combo.

The jazz band is made up of about 20 members and the jazz combo includes from five to eight members.

The number of members varies from year to year and even from performance to performance, as different musicians will collaborate, forming different combinations for different occasions and events.

The concert tonight will open with three pieces performed by the jazz combo with Phillip Green on drums, Scott Tipton on bass, John Meade on saxophone, Chris Johnson on trumpet, Chelsea Kimberlin on piano and Edgington on tenor saxophone. Band director Armstrong will join them on trombone.

The jazz band concert is the first in a series of holiday WISD band concerts at the Fine Arts Center.

Other concerts include the Waxahachie Junior High School band on Tuesday, Dec. 11; Waxahachie High School band on Thursday, Dec. 13; all region jazz band on Saturday, Dec. 15; and Turner Middle School band on Tuesday, Dec. 18.

All concerts take place at 7 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center.