In many cases, these are award-winning programs that take the young performers on tour — both in local and national settings — placing them before their first big audiences. Such is the case with the Mission Bay Preservationists, formerly known as the Mission Bay High School (MBHS) Dixie Jazz Band. The group will perform at various times during the 32nd annual San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival on Nov. 25-27 at the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center.
Though the school group built its reputation on the former Dixie jazz genre, Mission Bay High music director JP Balmat felt it was time to modernize things.
“After a 20-plus-year tradition, it was time to update, to represent the current culture and influence of the band,” he said.
Balmat is quite familiar with the ins and outs of Mission Bay High School’s music program, having been a student and band member at the school. He graduated in 2002, returning in 2007 as director of the school’s music department.
“My goal was to give the band a more mature look and name,” Balmat said. “We have some of the most talented young players in San Diego and I didn’t want the appearance of a ‘high school group’ to hold them back.”
Under the change, the band has replaced its old uniforms — red vests and black bowties. The students are now able to wear appropriate clothing of their own choosing.
“The uniforms have always been the image of the jazz band and Mission Bay High School,” Balmat said. “It was a very hard decision, but after 20 years, it was time. The students have the ability to be their own person and dress the part of a professional.”
For Balmat, once the time came to change the group’s name, a replacement theme was obvious.
“Our goal is to preserve the early jazz that came out of New Orleans through players like Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton and, of course, Louis Armstrong,” Balmat said. “We wanted a name that gave the listener an idea of what we play but that wouldn’t pin us into one distinct style like Dixie, as in our previous name, MBHS Dixie Jazz Band.”
He said he feels the new name is less constrictive stylistically.
“We always stay true to the music but as jazz musicians we need to give our own influences and creativity into the music to make it our own. This is what makes jazz so great,” Balmat said.
Beyond the students’ own academic studies, Balmat said that as part of the Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival, the MBHS Preservationists will perform at the House of Blues on Thanksgiving morning for their annual “House of Giving” event.
“This is the second year we have played this event,” Balmat said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for the band to perform on that stage and it leaves you with such a good feeling from giving back on Thanksgiving.”
Balmat also said getting the Preservationists’ music recorded will be a priority.
“Our biggest goal this year is to lay down tracks for a new CD under the new Preservationists name,” he said. “We are busy playing as many events as possible to raise the money needed to record. We are looking for any private or community help that might be out there.”
Though the band is made up of high school students, Balmat said the young musicians are already seasoned veterans.
“This current band has over 70 performances under its belt,” Balmat said. “It’s a very talented group.”
Mission Bay Preservationists perform Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 25-27 at the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center, 500 Hotel Circle North, Mission Valley. All ages encouraged to attend. www.dixielandjazzfestival.org