They take jazz seriously at Wauwatosa East High School. And it's been true for more than a dozen years now, thanks to teacher Rob Engl, who has served as the school's band director for 13 years.
Engl's students in Jazz Ensemble I meet three days at week in the morning before the first bell rings and sometimes rehearse over lunch, after school and evenings, too.
That kind of dedication has led to performances in London, Paris, New York and Edinburgh, among other places. The students also take part in an annual concert at the school by the Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble.
This year, however, will be Engl's last, as he retires at the end of the academic year.
"The jazz and band programs under his and his wife's – Robin Engl retired last year – has been a true gift to our community," says Jon Leubner, parent of a band student. "Their tireless efforts on behalf of their students and their musical legacy will be felt for generations to come."
This year's concert takes place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21 – in the Wauwatosa East High School Theater – and features the Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble, guest artist Wycliffe Gordon, former trombonist in the Wynton Marsalis Septet, and The Wauwatosa East Jazz Ensemble I.
"Wycliffe is one of the greatest jazz trombonists of all time," says Engl. "I have wanted to bring him here for years."
No less than Duke Ellington called the Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble "one of the top collegiate bands in the nation." Under the direction of Ronald Carter the ensemble has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Charles McPherson, Randy Brecker, Benny Golson, Marian
McPartland, Dizzy Gillespie, Willie Pickens and other jazz greats.
"I am really looking forward to the show, although as you mentioned, it will be my last one, so while I feel reflective about that, on the other hand it will perhaps be the most wonderful of all of the NIU/East collaborations. I hope the show will go on after I retire."
The gig is the 12th annual event and it is also a release party for the new "Through the Years ... Best of 2001-2012" CD, which collects 18 performances.
Tickets are $15 for main floor seats, $10 to sit in the balcony and $8 for students and seniors (62 and older).
Proceeds from the show benefit the Tosa East Band Program.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.