MIDDLETON — When Laurie Lang, a professional bass player, educator and mother of a saxophone player, learned about an opening to play at Jazz at Five, she jumped at the chance to showcase Middleton High School musicians.
Lang knew the five saxophone players in the Middleton High School Seven O’Clock Jazz Band were up to the task.
“I saw they were really wanting something more so when I saw Jazz at Five had an opening, I said, ‘I’ve got a group for you,’” Lang said. “Some of them are playing at a college level already.”
The group was accepted and will open the last Jazz at Five this season at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the top of State Street near the Capitol. The free event includes the Waunakee Big Band at 5 p.m. and Geoffrey Keezer and Gillian Margot at 6:30 p.m.
Lang has been running rehearsals this summer with the saxophonists for the Jazz at Five appearance. She also organizes weekly jazz jams at Common Ground in Middleton every Wednesday evening and the sax players often come to take part. The students also have participated in workshops organized by Lang before the jams.
Middleton High School has five co-curricular jazz ensembles, and the Seven O’Clock Jazz Band is the top group. The students have to audition to get into the band and they toured in Japan last school year during spring break.
Lang’s daughter, Lucy Croasdale, a senior who has performed at Concerts on the Square with a Middleton High School choir, said she is excited to be back by the Capitol playing jazz.
“I feel like it’s going to be, first of all, really fun to play in front of a bigger audience than we are used to,” junior Amanda Roesch said. “I’m going to go into it with the mindset that it’s just going to be another performance and no matter what, it’s going to be fun.”
The other sax players are senior Max Newcomer, who will start his third year with the Seven O’Clock Jazz Band, and juniors Jonathan Downs and Andrew Stine.
In addition to playing sax, the students are going to mix it up a bit for one song by having Newcomer play piano, Stine on flute, Roesch on clarinet, Downs on drums and Croasdale on bass. In addition, for some songs Lang will accompany the group on bass along with other local professional performers, Wilder Deitz on piano and Jim Huwe on drums.
Stine said this is his first time playing Downtown so it’s “a pretty cool opportunity.”
“It’s a pretty momentous occasion,” Downs said. “It’s not every day you get to play on State Street.”
Newcomer, the unofficial leader of the saxes, said the group has “really good chemistry.” Newcomer has been offered a scholarship at UW-Madison but has not made a decision on his post high school plans.
Doug Brown, director of the Seven O’Clock Jazz Band, is starting his fourth year at Middleton High School after replacing his former teacher, Brad Schneider, who was a longtime band director. Brown is one of three band directors at Middleton High School and oversees the jazz program.
The number of co-curricular jazz bands has increased from two to five in the last three years at Middleton High School. About 200 students are enrolled in a co-curricular jazz band, which meet outside of the school day. The band program itself has increased from about 210 students to about 340 in the same time frame.
Brown said the opportunity for the students to play Jazz at Five would not have happened without Lang’s involvement at a time when he is busy with marching band.
“They get a little snippet of what that would be like to do this professionally,” Brown said. “It is great to have professionals like Laurie bridge that gap and provide these opportunities. … Not only to do this but to do it right and do it right by the kids.”