Making music in the 515 Big Band building name for itself

-Photo courtesy of the 515 Big Band

There’s no other sound in the world like a true big band. The beat that draws everyone to the dance floor. The horns that blend together in a magical crescendo of joy and harmony. The just plain fun of hearing musicians who are having a ball together making music.

The 515 Big Band is barely a year old and quickly gaining fame for its blend of jazz and big band music sure to make a person want to get up and move, or perhaps just sit and listen, enthralled with the finest of local musicians honing their craft together.

“We started last year, came together and started practicing before Christmas, and then our first concerts were in the spring,” said Tiffany Nelson, founder of the 515 Big Band.

Nelson has spent a lifetime in music and music education. Treasurer and board member for the Iowa Bandmasters Association, professor of music at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake and now a master teacher at Humboldt High School, to name a few of her credits, Nelson thrives when she’s making music.

Bringing fellow musicians together to make music drives her forward.

“All my friends from central Iowa are kick a — players,” Nelson said. “I just said we’re going to throw this group together.”

And that’s how the 515 Big Band came to life. Relatively new to the Fort Dodge area after serving at Buena Vista for several years, Nelson was impressed with the local talent and decided it needed to be showcased.

“There is huge talent in Fort Dodge and the surrounding area for jazz bands,” Nelson said. “I wanted to play, and my husband wanted to play, and we threw it together and it’s been quite a success.”

Nelson has been spent her life in music and organized a number of different bands and jazz festivals. This time around, she wanted to keep it specific to central Iowa, hence the 515 name. However, as word got out about the quality of musicians, and the fun they were having together, musicians from around the state wanted to join in.

“The goal was to keep it within the 515 (area code), which is where it got its name,” Nelson said. “And now it’s grown so much and so fast that we have huge players coming from all across the state of Iowa. Big players from across the state are contacting us to play, so that’s really awesome.”

Audiences can expect a blend of genres and well-known favorites, as well as some pieces that are more enterprising and even educational, expanding the horizon to include a variety of sounds. The band has the typical Big Band line-up, including saxophone, trombones, trumpets, electric guitar, bass and piano.

“My goal in starting this was also to educate,” Nelson said. “So, we go out and do clinics for jazz bands. That is why our opening bands are high school jazz bands. We want to educate. Dan Cassady and myself also MC during the concerts. We want to make sure that the people sitting in the seats aren’t just getting music, but they are getting the story behind the songs. They’re getting little tidbits of information about the song, about the composer, about the big names in jazz.”

Make no mistake, this is not a lecture, it’s music with a little style, a little learning and a bit of showmanship thrown it.

“We have fun while we do it,” Nelson said. “That’s how we structure out concerts. We play a song, talk about a song, play another song, and bring people to the world of jazz music.”

Concert-goers can expect a variety of great covers, from Count Basie to Dizzy Gillespie, and many more. The emphasis on jazz came partly out of a respect for existing musical groups in the local area.

“Fort Dodge is saturated with live music, which is a good thing,” Nelson said. “There were no jazz bands before. We have rock, hard rock, country, individuals,” and many more types of music. The 515 Big Band is seeking to create its own niche and deliver music that local audiences may not otherwise hear.

“So, when you try to create another group for music it’s hard to get it off the ground and get people in the seats,” she said. “This is well worth it for people to come and watch and listen to.”

Nelson has nothing but praise for the musicians who come together to practice and perform and deliver the 515 Big Band sound.

“The musicians in this are absolutely outstanding musicians from across the state,” she said. “When you have the head guy from Iowa State University playing in your sax line, and you have people coming from Des Moines, and driving three hours from eastern Iowa, it’s just wonderful what’s happening here.”

Nelson is also pleased that subgroups, specialized trios and the like are now shooting off from the 515 Big Band, seeking to play together even more often.

Students are admitted free to 515 Big Band concerts. It’s an effort to help build the next generation of live musicians for the local area.

“We’ve noticed a huge influx of college and high school students coming to our concerts,” Nelson said.

Here’s a look at upcoming concerts, all at Phillips Auditorium in Fort Dodge. All concerts begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10, available at the door. Beverages are available for purchase.

• Feb. 23, featuring Fort Dodge Senior High School Jazz Band.

• March 22, featuring Iowa Central Community College Jazz Band.

• April 26, featuring Iowa State University Jazz Band

• May 24, 515 Big band


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