Alexis Binkley

The Jazz program is one of the secret jewels of Lakota West. With the band consisting of extremely talented students, Jazz takes place in two main campus classes — Lakota West Jazz Orchestra and the Lakota West Jazz Lab band. There is also a Big Band class that meets at the Freshman campus. These ensembles perform three concerts every year, as well as T special events like our annual Swing Dance, Jazz ‘N Cakes pancake breakfast, and our newest event this year, the Inaugural Lakota West Jazz Festival. 

Aaron Todahl is the director of the Jazz band here at both Lakota West and Lakota East. Mr. Todahl explains that the band is so much more than playing an instrument; it gives students chances to learn more about the American art form of jazz as well as learn real-world skills that they can use to perform at events out in the community. Many students in the jazz program are a part of extra-curricular groups such as the Jazz at Dusk combo organized through the Cincinnati Jazz Hall of Fame, performing at Caffe Vivace. Another group that some of the students are involved in is the Tri-State Jazz Combo which is being led by Lakota West alum Spencer Merk, a former Lakota West band student. 

Now how do students get into the Jazz band? Well, it’s actually pretty simple.  All you have to do is an audition. Auditions are held in mid-February and the results are announced to the students in late April/ early May. As of right now, the jazz band has 18 musicians in the top ensemble, Jazz Orchestra, and 17 musicians in the Jazz Lab Band. Jazz band students will engage in practice pretty often. Todahl expresses he would normally see the band four times a week, but due to the new schedule because of Covid-19 things have changed. “The nice part, though, is that many of the students in the jazz program are taking private lessons on their instrument and are also involved in the other aspects of the performing arts program here at Lakota West including the Marching Band, Concert Band program, and choir program.” Due to all the practice and hard work students are still on top although there have been many setbacks like Covid-19.

Previous jazz students are still using what they have learned from Lakota West to pursue a further career in the discipline. For example, Spencer Merk is in the Cincinnati area to provide meaningful opportunities to the jazz students here in Lakota. Spencer leads the Tri-State Jazz Combo and is also involved in the Jazz at Dusk Combo, both of which have Lakota West students involved in them and perform in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area. According to Todahl, “He’s also a fantastic musician and a great educator and I hope that he continues to provide opportunities like these to young jazz musicians in the area.”  Although graduated, Spencer is still an amazing, productive Jazz player;  He furthered his career by continuing to teach what he has learned throughout his four years of high school. He has been a wonderful former student by still teaching kids who go to Lakota West.

Aaron Todahl feels a special bond between him and his now senior class. Mr. Todahl is fairly new to Lakota West considering he just started teaching back in the fall of 2018. “It has been so exciting and rewarding to watch them grow and further develop their love for jazz. They have so much enthusiasm for this music and they have been such a positive force for the program. They are an extremely talented and dedicated group of students that play at the level of professionals and they should be very proud of the work that they’ve done here in the jazz program at Lakota West,” says Aaron Todhal. The jazz program holds two annual fundraisers that benefit the entire Lakota West band program; the Swing Dance and Jazz ‘N Cakes pancake breakfast. Both of these events were put on hold this year due to Covid-19, but the band will now be hosting a hybrid event this month called The Inaugural Lakota West Jazz Festival. The event will take place on Friday, April 30th from 6:00 pm-9:30 pm at the Freshman Campus Stadium and will include music from the Lakota West Jazz Orchestra, Jazz Lab Band, Freshman Jazz Ensemble, Ridge Junior Jazz Band, and Plains Junior Jazz Band. This event supports ALL Lakota West Band and Color/Winter Guard programs! Tickets are $10 each and include music, dinner, vendors, raffle baskets, and more. Seating for performances will be in the stadium, or chairs and blankets can be brought in for seating as well. Masks and social distancing will be required. Dancing is welcome and encouraged on the track. Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door.  If you decide to join, be ready to have fun and take what you learn, and apply it to your daily life