If you see a group walking around in khakis, straw hats, red suspenders and a white shirt, that’s the Dixieland Jazz group at McPherson College.
As the student-led group is in their first semester, they have already gotten to play gigs at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, the Cedars in McPherson and others.
“The past few years Jacob (San Martin) and I and a couple of other students said we wanted to start something else outside of the original jazz band. The jazz band is fun, but we wanted a small group outside of that,” said co-leader of the group Winston Stuaffer.
“It started up out of the blue. We were having a casual conversation after band practice and pretty much said at the same time ‘How cool would it be if we played Dixieland Jazz,’” said Jacob San Martin, also co-leader of the band.
The group consists of nine members and plays 1800s early 1900s turn-of-the-century style jazz with a mix of New Orlean-style and blues. Members are Gregg Walker, Jacob San Martin, Nick Eggleston, Winston Stauffer, Austin Russell, Kento Aizawa, Lillian Oeding, Nicholas Powell, Joseph Isaacson and Josh Hoerner with instruments ranging from a banjo, tenner saxophones, a trumpet, a trombone, clarinet and a piano.
Stauffer and San Martin began picking out their players while keeping in mind some of the best that were already in their jazz concert group.
“Being heavily involved in the music department, we can see who the stronger players are and who would be willing to put forth the effort to doing that and spending time outside of practice,” Stauffer noted.
The pair began asking people if the wanted to be members of their band and assembled more than just students.
“One of the great things about the college is the common them is community, and Kyle (Hopkins) really demonstrates that with his passion for music. He’s always helping out with other places and I feel like that rubbed off on us. I really like the idea that it’s not just a student deal, it’s a community thing,” San Martin said.
“Stauffer and San Martin are both Automotive Restoration students, but they happen to be two of the top musicians in my band program. What’s exciting about those two guys is how versatile they are. They’ll probably be millionaires someday from restoring antique cars, but on Friday and Saturday nights I have no doubt they’ll be playing in their local jazz clubs their whole lives,” said Kyle Hopkins, Associate Professor of Music and Director of Bands at McPherson College.
The group ranges from ages 20 years old and up with some members being teachers at the school, which gives the group more experience.
“We feel like with having Greg and Austin, their both music professors, it’s nice to have them. If we’re struggling on something they’ll say ‘Here, give this a try,’ and just give little tid-bits of knowledge and recommendations to better everybody in the band,” Stuaffer noted.
The group practices twice a week, as gathering members can be a struggle with different schedules.
“We practice at 9 p.m. at night because it’s the only time that works out for us,” San Martin noted.
As the group is growing in popularity, the leaders are pleased with how many places want them to play for events.
“The exposure is great. Playing at the Cosmosphere in Hutch, that was pretty amazing and a cool experience. Even playing at the Cedars, during out last tune a lot of people got up and started dancing,” Stuaffer said. “Our first performance was at the Smoky Valley Swing Dance event that was in February and since that we’ve been asked to play twice at the Cedars and then we will be playing at the Monitor Church of the Bretheran.”
“It’s one thing to get a standing ovation at the Cosmosphere, but when you see people dancing, I appreciate that more,” San Martin added.
While growing in popularity, the leaders keep having fun in the forefront of their minds.
“We have fun with the music. It’s not conventional jazz that you see in most colleges or high schools. It’s pretty happy up beat music and I think the age of it is what makes it unique,” San Martin noted. “We’re not doing it for the credit or the pay, that’s a bonus but that wasn’t our goal. Our goal was to play music that we really enjoy. We’re going to be graduating soon and we really wanted to do this before we graduate and we’re lucky we got this experience. The core of this group is the desire to play just for fun, and especially Winston (Stauffer) and I, we’re always playing after practices just for fun.”