Unknown to some, jazz is America’s one true original art form. Its creation comes from the combination of Western European classical music traditions and African culture.
“Jazz is America’s original art form, the baseball of music,” Alan Durst, director of the Jazz Orchestra and Ensemble, said.
“It’s definitely not just elevator music,” Erika Gamez, a piano player in the Jazz Ensemble, added. “I think coming to a jazz concert you’ll see right away that there’s a lot of misconceptions.”
On Dec. 1, the Jazz Ensemble and the Jazz Orchestra will play their Winter Concert in the Concert Hall at 8 p.m. The Jazz Ensemble typically plays standard big band sharps by famous composers while the Jazz Orchestra plays more contemporary jazz that has been written in the past 10 to 15 years.
“One really unique aspect of jazz is that it’s really multicultural,” Alan Durst said. “We play music where pretty much every different ethnicity is represented, whereas European classical music is only set in that region of the world.”
Jazz is not only rooted multiculturally in America, but it is also rooted and defined by the act of improvisation. This is the big difference between commercial pop jazz and traditional jazz.
“It’s an awesome conversation that you can have,” William Melendez, saxophonist for the Jazz Orchestra, said. “When you’re up there on the stage improvising and you have the rhythm section going on right behind you, they’re listening to you and you’re listening to them playing subtleties that you can do and we’ll pick up on that and change the groove. It’s really cool to be able to talk to somebody through your instrument.”
Durst added he tries to involve them in making performance decisions and asks them what they think, how they can change the performance and make it unique. To be a part of the jazz bands is collaborative. Melendez never thought he’d be able to play in an ensemble where he could have the opportunity to write anything or make his own decisions in terms of performance. Melendez is also in the Wind Orchestra where they play more classical music and band literature where they must stay true to the original piece 100 percent.
“You don’t get that choice [in Wind Orchestra] because it’s the director really making that choice with what that piece needs to sound like,” Melendez said.
Danny Talob, a saxophonist for the Jazz Orchestra, loves the challenge it creates. “There’s a lot of different challenges as a musician. There’s playing with the ensemble, the intonation and playing all about the same time, everything the exact same way that’s a challenge in itself,” Talob said.
“I think staying true to the music stylistically is very hard and most of what you have to do is listen, it’s all with your ears,” Talob explained. “It’s cool because I feel like you’re a group and then you have the chance to shine as an individual.”
All the musicians solos are improvised on the spot; though they practice on the underlying music they will play, they have spontaneous composition. When they play their solo they stand up and improvise and so the listening becomes a big part of the collaboration of what they’re playing.
“It’s really unique because a solo is never the same,” Gamez said. “It’s kind of like a snowflake.”
“When you see somebody perform live it’s a completely different feel than listening to a CD because you see their faces and you see how into it they are,” Melendez said. “There’s pure emotion in it and you see the thought process as it’s happening.”