Nothing beats live music, especially when it’s played by a big band.
Whether it goes down on stage or it’s in the works at rehearsal, the Kicks Band of Fargo-Moorhead has the swing of sax, swell of horns and so much more. Set for 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 23, at Fargo’s First Lutheran Church, the group’s winter concert is the perfect time to get the whole family out to enjoy some lively music.
“Let’s take a look at us,” Director Tim Johnson says during a recent rehearsal, referencing a Thad Jones piece called “Us,” as the musicians prepare for the upcoming performance.
Someone chimes in, “Do you have a mirror?”
The group is in the middle of rehearsal in the band room at West Fargo’s Liberty Middle School. It’s the same school where Tim’s wife, Amy, teaches band.
As the daughter of the late founder Edward Christianson, Amy Christianson-Johnson has worked continuously with Tim and band members to keep the group jamming, as well as provide high-quality jazz arts programs for the community.
“The Thad Jones big band was so in-your-face and I just like the style of writing,” Christopher Hanson says about one of his favorite pieces from their upcoming concert. Hanson is a trombonist who’s been with Kicks for 10 years. “It (the song) has stuck with me for over 30 years, now.”
Hanson has a history of playing a host of instruments around town in various bands as well as vocal appearances with Kicks. Recently retired from the U.S. Army and North Dakota National Guard, he works for Faith United Methodist Church as the musical worship director.
“I think what is cool about a big band is you can paint a really interesting picture depending on how you tell the story,” says Hanson.
“I’ve done the rock band and show band side of things, I had a horn band called Helena Handbasket for about 15 years, then I play in small jazz groups, some traditional and others are a bit more modern,” he says, adding, “I’ll always take a big band gig.”
With a wide range of experience and professional career tracks, the members put their busy lives on hold for the big band. For some, music is an all day, every day thing spanning work and hobbies, while a few others take part to keep up with their craft.
“My dad always pushed me to play an instrument because it’s something you can do your whole life,” says Amy Thorpe, a Kicks baritone saxophonist of 12 years. “I just made a point of keeping up with it.”
Thorpe works in economic development for the city of Moorhead during the day, and is one of two women in the band. Her musical career started by playing a family-owned clarinet before she learned saxophone from John DiFiore, another Kicks member.
The Kicks band officially became a nonprofit organization in 2018 with the specific purpose of jazz education and performance. They work to educate and perform with the intent of preserving American’s original art form — jazz.
“Symphonic music, orchestral music, big band, it’s all part of the American musical landscape,” says Matthew Patnode, another saxophone aficionado with the band and professor at North Dakota State University. “It’s about connecting with the performers. You never know when that moment is going to happen. That’s a human experience.”
As big band numbers dwindle across the nation, Kicks has continued to get into area schools with concerts and workshops. The band offers students a glimpse at the immeasurable value of live music while entertaining the masses on stage and in unique venue spaces.
“I think that’s a dangerous precedent, where live music isn’t as important anymore,” Patnode says. “I see that happening and when you think about how big bands started in the 1930s, they couldn’t really hear stuff at home, maybe they had a gramophone with bad sound. But now, there’s too many options for people and we don’t socially interact with each other.”
The upcoming concert will feature works from Allen Carter, Micheal Buble, Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones, Maynard Ferguson and more.
What: Kicks Band of Fargo-Moorhead winter concert
When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23
Where: First Lutheran Church’s Celebration Hall, 619 Broadway N., Fargo
Info: Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and free for kids under 10; available at fmkicksband.com or at the door
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and appeared in print on Monday February 17, 2019.