Gabe Schmidt

Gabe Schmidt performing at the NEIBA jazz festival last year, where he went on to receive the Outstanding Soloist award.

Wednesday was supposed to be a sensational day filled with music for Gabe Schmidt. The Vinton-Shellsburg senior was set to represent his school and community with the All-State Jazz Band for the second year in a row, traveling to Des Moines to play with an exclusive group of Iowa’s best high school jazz musicians.

“They only accept one bass player on a blind audition,” Schmidt said. “I worked very hard last year and got accepted to play with those considered the best in the state. I made it through auditions again this year, but unfortunately it was canceled.”

COVID-19 claimed yet another event in a long line for seniors such as Schmidt, a devoted student of jazz and instrumental music at Vinton-Shellsburg. During his time as a Viking, Schmidt has been involved in four seasons of concert and marching band, playing the trombone for both ensembles.

“I always enjoyed being under the bright lights on the football field on a Friday night, knowing we had worked hard over the summer and fall for our marching show,” Schmidt said. “Home game shows were a highlight because of the energy and the vibe to it. My buddy Cyrus Elwick and I got to march on the field this year and perform a duet together on senior night. That experience really sticks out to me.”

Schmidt grew up in what he describes as a “family band.” When in elementary school, he gravitated towards a bass clef instrument in a trombone, but even earlier with the bass. His first bass had two strings on it and he was required to learn those strings before moving on to bass guitar. Years of practice would pay off early for Schmidt as he was invited to audition for the single high school jazz band as an eighth grader.

“It was definitely nerve wracking because I was going to play the upright bass,” Schmidt said. “An upright bass is acoustic, fretless and I wasn’t very familiar with it. I was playing with seniors, including my older brothers. There was a lot of expectation for me to be good because they were talented. It was a last name I had to live up to.”

For that year, Schmidt played in both the middle school and high school ensembles, gaining valuable experience and pushing him out of his comfort zone. When the program split to two bands during his high school years, Schmidt continued to play in the auditioned Jazz I ensemble.

“Jazz for me is an opportunity to stand out as an individual player and have the ability to get creative and play off of the rest of the band’s energy,” Schmidt said. “In a concert band style setting, one is to rehearse as they perform, but the great thing about Jazz is that everytime you can play it differently.”

As a self described “fine arts student”, the senior played in all three aforementioned music groups, but also spent his free time gigging around the Cedar Rapids area with his older brothers Sam and Stephen. The three play over the weekend in cover bands StraitRun (classic rock, country) and Casting Call (pop, 80s rock). Schmidt is also separately involved in a country band called Stampede. Between the three bands, he has played at local events such as Party in the Park, the 4th of July celebration and performed at famous venues such as the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.

The Vinton native had shows lined up for the coming weeks with both his high school and personal bands in March when the first signs of trouble came with the coronavirus. Vinton-Shellsburg’s jazz band were rehearsing on Friday, March 13, the same day as their annual Cabaret concert. Students and teachers came in that morning believing the show was set to go on. According to Schmidt, they went 10 minutes into the rehearsal before learning the show was postponed, later to be canceled for 2020 as the school’s doors remain closed for the rest of the school year.

“Things all went downhill from there and just spiraled into a string of cancellations,” Schmidt said. “I can’t even think of when my last live performance was. A lot of preparation goes into these performances and shows. It’s hard to work on something for so long, then to see it canceled.”

But that isn’t stopping Schmidt from improving and continuing to sharpen his skills. He’s still staying motivated to practice even as his high school career is over. Next, Schmidt will take his talents to Kirkwood Community College and play bass in their jazz program. After two years in Cedar Rapids, Schmidt plans to attend the University of Northern Iowa to major in business and minor in jazz.

“My ultimate goal would be able to do music as a career,” Schmidt said. “Whether or not I’ll be able to do that, music will always be a part of my life. I think having a business degree will set myself up for jobs in different areas and provide me tools to market the bands I’m in. I think having a solid job and a career will allow you to pursue music with little risk.”

If the pandemic shutdown has taught the senior anything, it’s to appreciate being able to perform and being able to do so with friends or family. When Schmidt is next able to play a live gig, he will have a changed mindset.

“I would get burnout and not appreciate music as much as I should have,” Schmidt said. “So, this recent situation with the coronavirus has really made me appreciate what I have and I think it’ll give me a better attitude going forward. I don’t take anything for granted.”