One of the most successful high school jazz bands in the country is right here in Broward, South Florida, just steps away from I-95. Sweet Dillard chronicles the 2014 school year of the Dillard Center for the Arts Jazz Ensemble, and their irrepressible band-leader, Christopher Dorsey. From the first day of class to a national competition, Sweet Dillard provides an inside look at one of the nation’s best public high school jazz bands.
Dorsey lays down the law from the first beat, calling out his students’ cliques—black and white kids automatically inhabit separate sides of the rehearsal room, something Dorsey won’t tolerate. “You don’t have to like each other, but you gonna respect each other,” Dorsey declares. As he later states, “If they can’t leave the program saying that they learned about life, about relationships… that’s the biggest thing, when you start dealing with race, to learn more about each other.”
Over the course of Sweet Dillard, we follow several individual students and their families, and learn of the often very serious pressures many of them face while still determinedly showing up at every rehearsal to take their seat in the band. At the end of the year, they travel to New York City for the national championships, determined to make South Florida proud. In our troubled America, these are youth that listen to their teacher—and come out with solutions for living that all of us learn from.