The Class 2A trophy for the first-place finisher in the 2013 Northwest Iowa Jazz Festival at Le Mars Community High School is shown with Jenna Snyder of Alta-Aurelia playing the saxophone in the background. Students, coaches, teachers and administrators across Siouxland work to balance class time with extracurricular actives, like this jazz festival, that take place during the school week.

DES MOINES | Corbet Butler looked at his Alta-Aurelia High School jazz band seconds before its performance in the finals of the Class 2A Iowa Jazz Championships on Thursday at the Des Moines Civic Center.

Trading glances, he felt his musicians gave him their blessing in leaping on stage, a tradition -- or superstition -- the 6-foot 8-inch director enjoyed this season.

"For the finals, I HAD to do it," Butler said on Friday, while riding a bus carting home the 2013 Class 2A state title jazz band. "It wouldn't be a jazz performance without me jumping on the stage. I did it and the audience laughed. I think it helped the kids relax."

According to their first-year director, the Alta-Aurelia musicians breezed through their tightest and strongest set of the season, giving the band an edge over second-place Okoboji High School. The triumph marked the second straight state title for Alta-Aurelia. Okoboji had carted the title trophy back to Dickinson County in 2011 and 2010.

Funny thing? More hardware may find its way to this cross-section of Buena Vista and Cherokee counties. Alta-Aurelia's jazz unit this season boasts of one senior, pianist Gracie Winterhof. The Warriors feature two juniors, 10 sophomores and seven freshman.

Michael Swanson, alto sax, and Brandon Glienke, trombone, earned outstanding soloist accolades in the afternoon portion of the Iowa Jazz Championships. For the finals, it was trap-set player Matthew Swanson earning an outstanding performer honor. All three are sophomores.

"We're going to have some fun the next couple of years," said Butler, a 2011 graduate of Buena Vista University.

My question: Will he be there to enjoy it?

Aurelia High School, after all, claimed the 2007 state title and saw director Jason Heeren depart one year later for Storm Lake High School. Heeren and his Tornadoes took part in the Class 3A Iowa Jazz Championships on Thursday.

Alta-Aurelia's 2012 champions were directed by Ryan Meyer, who landed last summer at Harlan High School. Meyer directed the Cyclones to the Class 3A title on Thursday.

Butler answered my question with confidence. "Absolutely, I'll be here," he said.

According to Butler, Northwest Iowa is THE place to be if you're directing high school jazz. A dozen units from this corner of the state competed for titles. While Alta-Aurelia and Okoboji claimed top honors among Northwest Iowa bands, there were place winners from this region in every class.

"Northwest Iowa should be proud," said Butler, a 2007 Spirit Lake High School graduate who appeared as a musician at the Iowa Jazz Championships in 2006 and 2007. "Two bands from here competed for the title in Class 2A. Sibley-Ocheyedan got third in Class 2A and Ridge View was sixth in Class 2A."

There were three place winners in Class 1A from this region and one each in Class 3A and 4A. Directors and musicians from all these schools bounce ideas off one another throughout the school year. Many meet at jazz camps each summer.

"We have large group contest for concert band coming up in two weeks," said Butler, noting he'll change gears musically now that the jazz season is over. Once school ends, however, he'll get back into his jazz.

"This summer, we'll dig back into our jazz selections," he said. "We've got several students going to jazz camps. We'll get them fired up for next season this summer."

It's how a top-flight director gets his kicks. Or, in this case, his jumps.



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