Ipswich High School Jazz Band: Yet Another Year of Glory

David Leff, Journalist and Editor

The Ipswich High School Jazz Band, directed by Gerald Dolan, is an audition instrumental group that focuses on jazz music.  This year, jazz band consists of five trumpet players, one pianist, one drummer, one vibe player, five saxophone players, five trombone players, one cellist, one bass player, and one guitarist. Their only practices during the week are on Tuesday nights from 7:00 to 9:00. Despite their limited practice time, they have won Gold at the Northeast District Festival and the State Jazz Festival.

Mr. Dolan has been directing the jazz band for 30 years and though he did not start it at Ipswich High School, he has changed it and improved it throughout the years. According to Mr. Dolan, the jazz band is now “so much more sophisticated,” and “more of the emphasis has been put on improvisation.” The quality of the jazz musicians and their ability to improvise has improved through the years. He said that the jazz band has also made him a better director of jazz.

In my interviews with Mr. Dolan and Matt Negar, I have found out what their rehearsals are like. They always start out with warm-ups and announcements. Then they do fifteen minutes of improvisation. A B flat blues is played for the musicians to play to. All of the musicians are expected to be able to improvise and each is randomly called on to improvise in front of the entire band. The remainder of the time is spent on the pieces that they plan to perform. They often do sectionals so that each section can get attention to their parts in the music. Sometimes Mr. Dolan and Mr. Fremont-Smith each take a section and sometimes there are student-run sectionals.


Although Mr. Dolan is the director, he does not direct alone. Mr. Fremont-Smith, the director of the middle school jazz band, is the assistant director of the high school jazz band. They have an agreement to assist each other in both bands; Mr. Fremont-Smith helps Mr. Dolan with the high school jazz band and the other way around for the middle school jazz band.

At the audition time in the beginning of this year, the future of this Jazz Ensemble did not look as good as in years past. They lost a lot of excellent musicians that graduated with the Class of 2014, including trumpet player Connor Fitzpatrick, trombone player Michael Riddle, and saxophone  player Colin Senechal. In response to this, Mr. Dolan “tried to highlight. . . [the band’s] strengths and develop and improve [the band’s] weaknesses.” He found music to highlight the strengths of the band, which include Matt Negar, Ben Hogan, Anagh Tiwary, and the rhythm section: Seth Person and yes, Eric Duback. Despite losing over ten great musicians last year, the Jazz band has been very successful, winning gold on the two occasions mentioned above and being invited to play at many different concerts.


I also asked Mr. Dolan about what will happen to the jazz band next year since he is retiring after the end of this year. He said that not much will change, but scheduling may change depending on who is conducting. He said that everything will stay the same whether the override passes or not. It has not been determined who will take over the jazz band next year, but when I asked him if he had any thoughts who might be in the running for next year’s director, he said, “If Mr. Seapy was here next year, I would love him to move into the band position and take that over.”

Mr. Dolan has run an outstanding band program in his career; one better than many colleges can offer. The hard work shown by him and his students every day pays off when they out on an excellent performance at every concert.