Changing tempos with a jazz band


Taking a break from its usual classical style, Diamond Bar High School now has a club dedicated to improv jazz, started by freshman Lucas O’Brien.

Prior to attending DBHS, O’Brien had considered attending Walnut High School because, unlike DBHS, it has jazz music groups. So O’Brien took matters into his own hands, emailing DBHS Music Director Steven Acciani to ask if he could form a jazz band.

 “Mr. A. responded with great enthusiasm, and this dream of a jazz band actually started to become reality,” O’Brien said via Discord.

The ensemble is still in its incipient stage, with only a handful of students in the band. There is no current student leader, but as the ensemble expands, it’s likely to gain one, according to O’Brien.

After tutorial period on Tuesdays, the small band practices virtually. Students are learning about jazz styles like swing, and studying the style of notable jazz musicians. 

“Currently we have a few songs Mr. Acciani found for the group, and he also got us some jazz method books, which basically explain jazz concepts and provide useful exercises to help improvise and such,” O’Brien said. 

The freshman said that before the band was formed, Acciani reached out to his colleagues and even contacted some alumni to seek input on how the jazz band could operate.

Instruments typically not associated with jazz such as French horn, flute and viola were also able to join the band because Acciani wanted anyone interested to be able to participate.

During each practice, Acciani chooses a student to play a certain piece while the rest of the class listens. The band, still being relatively new, is currently focused on learning the fundamentals.

“We aren’t really working on pieces right now,” sophomore Bryan Chiu, a member of the band, said. “It’s mostly just learning the new style.”

The small group is learning from the ground up about how improvisation works in music, which is central to jazz, and entirely contradictory to what classical music players are accustomed to. They’re attempting to emulate artists like Si. Zetner and Bill Watrous for reference.

 “Good improv has a mix of both creative decisions but also fundamental playing patterns, hence why not just practicing scale exercises is critical but also listening to professionals’ improv styles and choices,” O’Brien said.