For more than 40 years, the Fargo-Moorhead Kicks Band has provided local musicians the opportunity to get together and bond over their love for America's original art form: jazz.
As the group gathers to rehearse for its spring concert on May 18, the camaraderie among the musicians and the band director, Tim Johnson, is as palpable as their passion for the music they produce with their horns, strings and percussion.
"Jazz is so different from other live music," Johnson says. "When you can feel the sounds reaching you and you watch the musicians at work, it's really stimulating."
The repertoire planned for the spring concert includes a range of high-energy tunes and soft ballads by Woody Herman, Astor Piazzolla, Bill Potts, Buddy Rich and more. Several songs feature vocalists Christopher Hanson, Amy Johnson and Mary Marshall to add a little more soul to the experience.
Regardless of what the band performs, Johnson intentionally selects music that "pumps up" the crowd and "makes the musicians sweat a bit," he says with a smile.
Musicians in the band are primarily band directors, university music professors and college students from around the community. All band members studied music in college.
Trombonist Josh Mathern, who works full time at the Fargo Park District, is one of more than 35 rotating artists who have played with the Kicks Band in the last year.
He says the Kicks Band offers a creative outlet for musicians to continue performing after college when being a full-time musician "isn't in the cards for them," he says.
"I always liked playing music and excelled at it early in school," Mathern says. "While majoring in music in college, I decided that I enjoyed playing but being a full-time musician wasn't for me. The Kicks Band gives me the opportunity to continue playing at a high level with high-caliber musicians."
Talented musicians are the reason the group exists today. Back in 1975, the late Edward Christianson - a prominent musician and former band director at Fargo North High School - formed the group with Dewey Possehl and James Condell for musicians to socialize, expand their abilities and learn big-band jazz literature.
Christianson's passion for music was infectious, and he encouraged musical excellence in every band member, Johnson says.
"We take pride in continuing the traditions that Ed set," says Johnson, who also called Christianson his father-in-law. Johnson and his wife, Amy, who plays trombone and sings vocals in the band, took over the Kicks Band after Christianson's death in 2011.
At that point, the couple decided to push the Kicks Band into new territory and make it more than a social group by incorporating jazz arts education programs and increasing high-quality public performances, like the spring concert.
The Kicks Band officially became a nonprofit organization on March 14, 2018, which Johnson hopes will help the Kicks Band grow even more.
While Johnson works full time as a band and general music teacher at DGF Schools, he's passionate about the Kicks Band and encourages anyone who hasn't experienced a live jazz performance to attend the spring concert and see what it's all about.
"For people that haven't been to a jazz concert before, it will be an opportunity to listen to a wide range of what jazz and big band music can be," Mathern says. "If jazz isn't part of your normal listening, you might be surprised at what a big band can do."
More information on the Fargo-Moorhead Kicks Band is available at fmkicksband.com.
If You Go
What: Fargo-Moorhead Kicks Band spring concert
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 18
Where: The Stage at Island Park, 333 4th St. S., Fargo
Cost: $15 for adults, $5 for students, free for children 10 and under. Tickets available at the door.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit theartspartnership.net.