16 Middle & High School Jazz Bands set to perform an all-day ‘concert in the park’ in Fort Walton Beach

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On Saturday, May 8th, the sound of jazz music will fill The Landing in Downtown Fort Walton Beach as 16 middle & high school bands come together for a day of concerts in the park.

What began nearly 15 years ago by Playground Music as a way to highlight the local jazz bands has grown tremendously since their days at Uptown Station.

“Typically the jazz bands didn’t get out all that much and you’d see the marching bands at football games,” said Bob Rockwell, Playground Music. “Sometimes you’d see the concert or symphonic bands at different events, but you didn’t typically see the jazz bands that often. So I wanted to give them a little forum to perform for the public and for the kids to see each other play in a relaxed, not judged, atmosphere.”

When Playground Music had their store at Uptown Station, it made sense to begin the concerts there at the park. Afterall, the first few years saw maybe 5-7 bands. This year, there are 16 bands from around the area that will perform.

For Mr. Rockwell, it’s been very gratifying to see this event grow. 

“Part of our mission at Playground Music is to promote music in our schools and in our lives,” he said. “Whether it’s band or orchestra or choir, the arts are a very integral part of our lives and it’s been gratifying to see it solidify into something that the bands, and the kids, are really looking forward to. It used to be that I had to go out and recruit people to play, and now, most of the time, they ask to play at Jazz in the Park.”

And as the event has grown, so have the programs across the county. According to Rockwell, just about every middle school in the area now has a jazz band (Meet Max Wise). High schools have at least one jazz band, with Niceville and Crestview both having two jazz bands (Meet Devon Shields). 

Niceville High School’s Devon Shields playing sax solo

“Kids are amazing,” continued Rockwell. “They can absorb and do so many things. It’s really been exciting to see the jazz programs grow and to see the excitement in jazz. I think it gives the kids another outlet for learning to play music and music appreciation.”

“Performing in the annual Jazz in the Park has become a staple of the Choctaw Band calendar,” said Brad Parks, Director of Bands at Choctawhatchee High School. “Our students, parents, and local community look forward to this event every year. The backdrop is perfect, the music is great, and it’s a fun-filled day with all of our friends and family coming out to hear the great work these students have put in all year long.”

Choctaw High School jazz band playing at “Jazz In The Park” – Source: Brad Parks

After having to postpone last year, Parks tells Get The Coast that the students are excited to be downtown again to perform. 

“They’re really excited about the music we’re playing, the solo moments, and the whole buzz about the jazz band,” said Parks. “We’ll have it all! Classic swing, modern swing, fast charts, latin charts, and we’ll have a good bit of funk and soul woven throughout. We’ll have several soloists featured in the band and we think the audience will eat it up!”

And while schools like Choctaw, FWBHS, Niceville and Crestview have been regulars at Jazz in the Park, this year we will see a new local high school join: Baker School!

Baker School (in Baker) is a K-12 school that has middle and high school band programs. Stuart Campbell oversees them both, along with their jazz band.

“After hearing so many great performances in past years, I’m excited to bring our Baker Jazz Band for the first time,” said Campbell. “We’re excited to join many of the other schools in Okaloosa County and excited to see their performances too.”

Baker School Jazz Band – Source: Baker School

According to Campbell, most all of their concerts, especially this year, have been at or around the school. A public concert like this provides a unique opportunity for them.

“We’ve got a good mix, sticking mainly to classic Big Band and Swing style,” said Campbell. “And we will have Stevie Wonder and The Beatles thrown in to change the pace!”

And while you can see all of your favorite local bands performing this Saturday, there are also bands from Tallahassee, Panama City, & Daleville (AL) coming to perform. 

“It’s free,” said Parks. “It shows off the great work happening in band programs across our area and it runs all day long. We’re all playing 30 minute sets so by the time you have a chance to hear one band, the next one is about to take the stage.” 

  • 10:00am – Ruckel Jazz
  • 10:30am – Destin Middle School Jazz 
  • 11:00am – Fort Walton Beach High Jazz 
  • 12:00pm – Baker School Jazz
  • 1:00pm – Liza Jackson Jazz
  • 1:30pm – Daleville High Jazz
  • 2:00pm – Band Director’s Jazz Band
  • 2:30pm – Lewis Middle School Jazz
  • 3:00pm – Choctawhatchee High Jazz
  • 3:30pm – Meigs Middle School Jazz
  • 4:00pm – Pryor Middle School Jazz
  • 4:30pm – Niceville High Jazz 2
  • 5:00pm – Niceville High Jazz 1
  • 5:30pm – Shoal River Middle Jazz & Crestview High Jazz 2 
  • 6:00pm – Crestview High Jazz 1

Jazz in the Park will take place at The Landing in Downtown Fort Walton Beach from 10am-6:30pm.

CHOCTAW BAND: Meet Gamaliel Harris. He plays trombone for the Choctawhatchee Style Marchers and brings a ton of energy to the jazz band. He also plays varsity football, wrestles, is in Beta Club + more. We talked to him about how he juggles music and playing various sports.

🙌 Thanks to our sponsors

This local high school band coverage is made possible thanks to Realtor Lisa A. Norton! Support those who support our local news coverage!

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