The Verdigris Jazz Band won their 27th state championship last week, a fitting send-off to 33-year Band Director Euell Hanna as he retires this summer.
In class 4A Verdigris’s A and B teams competed against Mannford, Cleveland, Fort Gibson, Berryhill, Grove, Wagoner and seven others.
Despite the impressive accomplishment, the students didn’t want to boast.
“On Jazz State day we got to eat some Chic-fil-A, some Cici’s pizza, and we won, so overall a good day,” said junior Becca Worthington.
Verdigris marching and concert bands have also had competitive success over the years.
“It’s pretty easy to win one,” Hanna said. “It’s a lot harder to win 27 and to have a band that can compete year after year after year.”
Hanna attributed much of that success to the supportive community at Verdigris.
“We have kids here in this community that grow up hearing the older kids play and jazz and wanting to be in the jazz band,” Hanna said. “They have a desire to do the things that I ask of them, and they know if they do things will work out.”
But if you ask the kids, Hanna deserves all the credit.
“You don’t realize how lucky you are until you see other bands and other band directors and realize that we have some of the best in the business here,” junior Destany Figart said. “I’ve had six different band directors and he is by far the most talented. No matter how awful you are or how late you are, he is always fighting for you.”
“One of the most admirable traits he has is that he pushes you to do your best, even if you don’t want to do it,” said junior Marissa Fox.
Junior Olivia Sadler said, “I don’t think that I would be the same person without Mr. Hanna, and I wouldn’t be a part of jazz band. He pushes a lot, but it is definitely worth it in the end when you realize ‘he knew that I could do this and that I was capable of good things.’”
Junior Katie Tramel agreed, “He really just wants to make sure that you meet your potential.”
“Mr. Hanna cares about all aspects of your life, not just Jazz,” Worthington said. “My trig class isn’t going to be my safe space, but when I come in here I can just chill.”
Before every competition Hanna leads the band in the Hokey Pokey to calm their nerves
“It was pretty cool to be apart of the last Hokey Pokey,” said freshman Heaven Remington.
“The best thing about Mr. Hanna is not only that he has love for music, but that he has love for everybody in the program,” said senior Logan Woller. “He really shows that, even after you graduate. He’s got a big heart.”
Verdigris band alumni return regularly to visit Hanna and support current students in the program.
The students agreed, “If it weren’t for Mr. Hanna we wouldn’t have won state, let alone 27.”
Hanna is in the Oklahoma Music Educators Association Hall of Fame and was the first high school teacher inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 2013.
Both organizations credited him for not only his student’s success, but for their passion as well.
“With jazz slowly starting to go away, it’s nice to be part of something that keeps something so original alive,” Woller said.
“It’s lit,” one student said succinctly.
The Verdigris Jazz Band has been invited to play for the Oklahoma House of Representatives next week.
THE END OF AN ERA
Reflecting on his years as band director of Verdigris, Hanna said the greatest point of pride is his students.
“I’ve had some really great kids that have gone on to be great players in college and a couple that are professionals,” Hanna said.
Former Verdigris Jazz Band players have performed on Broadway and major cruise ship lines. One operates a studio in New York City.
“I am so ready,” Hanna said about retiring. “I’m ready to do something else. I don’t like wet feet in the morning and I don’t like being at school at 7 a.m. every day.”
“If all I had to do is teach jazz band and beginning band, I’d stay forever,” Hanna said. “But the whole thing combined is a lot, and marching band is a young man’s game. It’s not for us little, old tottering men.”
“I think retiring might be fun,” Hanna said, before listing off the part time jobs and teaching clinics he already has lined up after his last day at school.
It sounds like a lot, Hanna said, “but it’s only three days a week, so I’ll have plenty of time to go fishing, golfing and goofing around.”
Assistant Band Director Dustin Brown will take over the program beginning this summer.
“Mr. Brown has been tremendous help for the last 12 years,” Hanna said. “He has been churning out great kids and all I’ve had to do is chip off the edges.”
Hanna bragged about Brown’s ability to mold freshmen into talented young players, adding, “he’ll be just fine without me.”
“I owe a lot to Verdigris,” Hanna said. “I’ve spent half my life here. I’ve had great experiences, met a lot of great teachers, and worked with some great people. I really think it is one of the best public schools in the state of Oklahoma.”
“Why would I stay here otherwise?” Hanna continued. “I found a home here.”