Recruiting For a Jazz Band

So, you’ve decided to add a jazz band to your school’s music program.

Where to begin?

Well, one of the first things you’ll need to take care of is recruiting students to play in it. Stephen Holley, who’ll be the Jazz Mentor for the month of September this year has a few thoughts that he shared on the Jazz forum with a fellow music educator looking for ideas on the subject.

“I would suggest the following,” says Holley, “starting from the top down:

1) Post flyers announcing ‘auditions’ – get your kids’ help in designing and posting them. Getting them involved creates more ownership of, and thereby loyalty to, the group and the program. They’re no longer helping your band, but their band.

2) Ask your administration if the band can play a mini-concert, even if it’s just a couple of tunes,  during your assembly time. If you don’t have a dedicated assembly time, ask your administration if they’d be amenable to adding a special assembly under the auspices of boosting enrollment/interest in the band.

3) Once the assembly performance has been approved send out an email to the parents. Often parents won’t befamiliar with the program’s offerings, especially a new ensemble. Get the word out by email, a school/parent association/booster newsletter, or school website.

4) At the end of the assembly, have some of your kids make a general announcement that you then follow up with specifics. In the following days you should make additional announcements to further introduce yourself to the students, give students the opportunity to answer questions, remind them of deadlines, etc.

5) In addition to your posted signup sheet (outside your office so you can gauge interest, answer questions, etc), send out an email to all the students—you never know who might have played an instrument previously that youdon’t know about. Also, email can be a bit less scary for a student in terms of approaching a teacher. I would also suggest having a signup sheet ready at the end of your assembly performance.

“All this should be published in the same week—this way the kids will get the information at some point during the week due to them being out or just not listening! Also, if the kids go home excited about the performance, the parents now know what they’re referring to. And if the kids don’t bring it up, hopefully the parents will!

“Finally, I would suggest having ‘soft’ auditions. Unless you need to weed out seven drummers, if a kid is interested in music you’re pretty much obligated to provide them the opportunity. Focus on building first, then move from there when you can. Just using the word ‘audition’ can scare away more than a few kids. Make the ‘auditions’ as lax as possible at this point in the building of the program.”

Steve Holley is the coordinator of the Commercial Music Program at the Kent Denver School in Englewood, CO. Under his leadership, the program’s DownBeat award-winning ensembles have performed at venues in Memphis, New Orleans, New York, and Miami, among others. Steve has performed with artists ranging from Arturo Sandoval to Tia Fuller, from James Williams to Doug Wamble, among many others. Prior to coming to Colorado he lived, performed, and taught in his adopted hometown of Memphis.

—Nick Webb, August 3, 2011, © National Association for Music Education