Strung with fairy lights, teeming with dozens of handmade sweets, buzzing with chatter and blanketed with jazz music, RBHS’ ordinary gym looked unrecognizable when Sweet Night of Jazz took place yesterday evening. This yearly fundraiser for RBHS bands lasted from 7-9:30 p.m., with performances from Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Band and Jeff Middle School Jazz Band. Shortwave Coffee’s free menu kept attendees on their feet, the Mizzou Swing Society made an appearance and over 100 items sat available for a silent auction. The groups performed back-to-back the entire night, creating a constant variety of jazz tunes to last the entire night.
Director of Bands Patrick Sullivan said that the Jazz Band and Jazz Ensemble both spent months preparing for their respective sets. Though they did not start practicing all of their music at the start of the year, much of their work since then led up to yesterday’s performances.
“We haven’t been working on all of this music since August,” Sullivan said. “But the process of making the band sound like a band started in August for what [one heard last night].”
Sophomore Maddy Kovaleski described a long, focused rehearsal process leading up to this night. She said the Jazz Ensemble zipped through multiple pieces.
“Jazz Ensemble plays three sets, which is probably between 15 and 20 charts [scores],” Kovaleski said. “A lot of the [music] we’ll only see once because there’s so much music.”
Both the Jazz Band and Jazz Ensemble’s sets included pieces from multiple different eras and composers. Assistant director of bands Josh Myers said the music was chosen to benefit the performers and to entertain the audience all night.
“In jazz, we like to familiarize the students with many different styles of jazz and popular music so they have a more complete jazz experience,” Myers said. “The variety of tunes also helps keep [the] audience more engaged and enjoy our performances.”
Audience members didn’t have to stay seated, either. Those who attended this event had the chance to pick up on a new skill: swing dancing. The Mizzou Swing Society taught a short swing dancing clinic about an hour and a half before Sweet Night began. A section of its members also performed a short routine toward the middle of the night.
Mizzou Swing Society member Chase Rother said the dancers that attended Sweet Night put in weeks of preparation.
“We’ve done some intermediate level dancing classes just [to teach] the basics of dancing,” Rother said. “It’s been about a month since we’ve been preparing this particular routine.”
Rother said the organization started providing swing dancing lessons at Sweet Night in 2014 but started dancing there long before then, captured by the allure of live swing music that spanned the decades.
“We’d had this relationship with Sweet Night of Jazz because it’s one of the few events in Columbia, MO that featured jazz from the ‘20s and ‘30s,” Rother said. “[Swing music] is the stuff we like to dance to. It’s just a [continued relationship].”
Junior Hunter Naylor attended the swing dance clinic. He said he learned from it and enjoyed his time spent learning to dance.
“I learned how to, partially, swing dance before the event.” Naylor said. “At first, it was a little awkward, but it was pretty fun once we got into it.”
With a floor for dancing and plates heaping with treats, the atmosphere of Sweet Night created a relaxed atmosphere. For many, like sophomore Justin Hahm, this made the event pleasant to participate in.
“It’s a really fun time to enjoy some music,” Hahm said. “It’s not competitive, it’s not super intense, it’s just warm, friendly and an open environment.”
Though the night showcased both the jazz bands, much of planning Sweet Night took place outside of the music rooms. Sullivan said parent volunteers coordinated everything for Sweet Night, from providing a number of desserts to arranging the silent auction that takes place every year.
“The parents do basically everything,” Sullivan said. “Except for provide the bands,” Sulivan said. The silent auction, all of the setup, all of the silent auction items, all of the tickets, contacting our MC, contacting Shortwave Coffee, [parents have] taken care of all of that.”
Volunteer Christi Farmer, who oversaw the silent auction, said parents had a multitude of ways to help.
“This year, we had a large group of volunteers,” Farmer said. “One of the largest we’ve had. There’s volunteer positions [that take] just a couple hours, all the way up to the cleaning, which takes quite a while but it’s all giving back to the bands.”
While the event lasted just two-and-a-half hours, parent volunteers put in months of work. They worked tirelessly to create a night that, Sullivan said, has steadily grown in attendance each year.
“The first night we had desserts [was] the first night we called it Sweet Night of Jazz,” Sullivan said. “I think we had maybe 120 people in total. Typically, these past few years, we’ve had well over 200.”