Jazz Cats Collective will compete in the 13th annual Saint Louis Teen Talent Competition Finals at the Fabulous Fox Theatre on April 8, at 7:30 p.m.
The jazz ensemble will feature in a show consisting of 14 acts, performed by high school students in the Saint Louis region. Jazz Cats Collective will perform Nina Simeone’s Feeling Good.
To qualify for the finals of the competition, the group progressed through a preliminary round before competing in the semi-final round at Kirkwood High School with 49 other acts in February.
For the competition, Jazz Cats Collective has worked with a production team including a choreographer, musical director, costume designer, and a scenic and lighting designer to put together their set.
The group has worked on elements of choreography and theatrical performance. The group will wear new uniforms, interact with the audience, and begin their show with a scrim. As a musical ensemble, this is a new challenge.
“For this competition, we’ve had to scale it back musically and in a way become better actors than we are musicians because at the end of the day, not everyone likes to hear jazz music, you know, in a large audience of like a several thousand people, so we have to keep the ideas interesting for the audience and not just for jazz musicians,” junior and pianist for the Jazz Cats Collective Miles Cole said.
“It’s been pretty difficult, I’d say, to change in a quick fashion, but we are trying our best, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job,” Cole said.
The group started during academic networking in Jan. 2022, working towards upcoming gigs. During this time, senior and group manager Jude Bronner decided to change the dynamic of practicing, where instead of practicing for upcoming performances, the group would build a repertoire of songs and search for opportunities to play them.
“Eventually, Jude Bronner, our manager, decided to kind of take initiative and make the group more organized, and he made us a group name and group logo, and ever since he did that, we’ve been a lot more official and we’ve got more gigs to play because of him,” Cole said.
Jazz Cats Collective members were familiar with each other before the ensemble began through other musical groups they are a part of, such as the Webster jazz band. Although, as a student-led ensemble, group members have more equal roles in the music they play and how they play it.
“We come together for these rehearsals, and everyone kind of puts their minds together to just talk about their visions and what they think would sound the best, and we all kind of collaborate together to try to get the best sound as an ensemble. It’s a completely different experience than being led by an adult, but I definitely think it’s a rewarding experience,” Cole said.
“It’s really nice because it doesn’t feel like anyone’s really in charge. We all have just as much of a voice to say, ‘We should do this. We shouldn’t do this.’ It’s much more equal I feel,” senior and trombonist Zach Andrews said.
“I think this has definitely been a learning experience for all of us in having our say because we have had to learn what people are good at. I trust Miles a lot for musical suggestions, and I trust myself a lot for stage present suggestions and so on,” senior and vocalist Katherine Teeter said.
Jazz Cats Collective is the only group in the competition playing their style of music, with most of the acts in the show featuring vocalists. Bronner viewed their difference in style as a potential edge over the competition.
“I think in some ways it’s to our benefit that we kind of have something different. We get to stand out from the crowd with jazz music. It’s also something that a lot of people haven’t been exposed to yet, and so we’re trying to make it more appealing and appetizing to a broader audience by incorporating that performance aspect,” Bronner said.
Ahead of the event, the group is excited to perform.
“I always get excited whenever we’re playing. Not just this song, but just playing music in general, I just find myself getting excited,” Andrews said.
“I’m excited. I wouldn’t have had us keep going so far if I didn’t think we have a shot at winning it. I’m really hoping for the best in that. I do think being a jazz group will be a bit of a surprise, but I’m hoping it’s a positive shock factor for us, and I’m hoping we can pull out a win on Saturday night,” Bronner said.
The event will stream on Nine PBS on Monday, May 8, 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 14, 11:30 a.m.
This will be Luca Giordano’s first year on ECHO Staff, but he also made several contributions while taking journalism class his junior year.