During the Little Warriors fund raising event on Feb. 22 my wife and I were amazed at the entertainment provided by the Payson Junior High School Jazz Band.
The music was out of the 40s and so was the attire of the young musicians. My wife and I are “older folks” and this music and the band is a scene from our parent’s generation. This was of the music our parents played and the photos they showed us as post war kids growing up in the 1950’s.
After the band concluded their last musical number and departed the stage area, I had to step to the back of the room and meet the band director, Connie Ericksen and several band members. These performers are so young, of course they are junior high school students. They perform like a seasoned and mature band.
I learned that on April 18 they are planning the 10th annual PJHS Jazz Band Dinner Dance. I told the director I wanted to do an article on her jazz band for the April issue of Serve Daily that would be out prior to dinner dance event. The idea was to create additional publicity for these magnificent young performers.
As you can guess by now, the 1940s Dinner Dance was cancelled because school classes, including band practice were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic precautions. Also, the target audience for the dinner dance was the age population at highest risk during the coronavirus pandemic.
The young people of this band group had worked hard to perfect their talents and I am sure they were extremely disappointed. I decided to go ahead and write an article about the little jazz band from Payson Junior High School. What I discovered was a more important story for our community to appreciate.
The band director, Connie Madson Ericksen, is as local as you can get and attended Payson Junior High and Payson High School. Her early mentors were her uncle Raydon Madison, Roger Holt, and her most esteemed mentor Jerry Chatwin.
Each of these people added to her love of teaching. She went on to gain music experience and degrees from USU and BYU.
Many years ago, USU would hold a springtime dinner dance and floor show replicating the 1940s era. Since that was such a unique time for our society and for the music style of the time Connie wanted to remind the young PJHS musicians of that era.
She has been at PJHS on and off since 1985 and full time since 2008. It was about 10 years ago when she launched the jazz band class that led to PJHS’s own version of a WWII dinner party.
All year long the jazz students are learning what it was like to be young in the 1940s: they read about Zoot Suit Riots, they watch swing-dance tutorials from 1944, and then they work with Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” up to speed.
They watch snippets from The Glenn Miller Story. On the night of the dinner dance performance they are decked-out in uniforms and dress of the era.
“When the show opens the room is filled with grown-up, paying customers and these 15-year-old kids begin to realize the power they have in music to change the world and to make people happy,” Ericksen said.
It is obvious that Connie Ericksen loves to teach and that brings students who love to learn. Because band is not a required class, the jazz band class meets at 7 a.m. before regular curriculum classes start.
Connie reports that she has tremendous support from the school administration and her school colleagues. When you see the performance of the PJHS Jazz Band you understand why she has the support she does. You also understand the disappointment of the 2020 Jazz Band Dinner Dance being cancelled.
I set about to write the story of the amazing PJHS Jazz Band and found a story about an amazing teacher and motivator of young musicians. (Helmick is a Serve Daily contributor.)