Twice during the month of October, the familiar sounds of Community Time have been complemented by drum beats, piano chords, bass guitar lines, and jazzy saxophone riffs. From the steps of Agee Hall, small ensembles of Strake Jesuit and St. Agnes students gathered to play new tunes, much to the delight of dozens of students, faculty, and staff.
Jazz Combos are a new initiative of the SJ/SAA Band program. Jazz at Strake Jesuit has previously focused more on the Big Band format, with two dozen students forming sections and playing carefully programmed pieces. Band Director Dr. Terron Ware suggests that the improvisation and creativity of Jazz music are more present in the smaller, dynamic, responsive setting of a Combo. "Maybe the true heart of Jazz can be better found here," he said.
Our five existing Combos range in size from three to seven players from every school year, and from both schools. The students' instrumentation includes traditional jazz instruments like trumpet and drums, alongside some instruments less commonly associated with jazz, like flute and clarinet. Students choose their own music and rehearse twice weekly, with ample guidance from Dr. Ware and Asst. Band Director Mr. Jesus Pacheco.
According to Band staff, the unique Combos format asks more from its participants, especially in the areas of time management, practice discipline, and the art of responsive improvisation. Senior Jose Gomez has played piano for ten years, but only began to focus on Jazz recently thanks to the new Combos format. "I think the new way we are running jazz combos is fun," he noted. "We’re given a lot of freedom, which is basically what jazz is about. And the fact that we get to perform often really gives us solid goals to strive for."
Audiences seem to be enjoying the Combo format. On October 7, approximately forty people gathered to hear two combos play. On October 28, that number swelled to nearly eighty, perhaps aided by beautiful fall weather. While Gomez's combo was playing that day, senior Emmett Vandegrift found a seat near the front with some friends. "I didn't even know this was happening, but the music really got my attention," he said.
Combo members were overheard describing their performance as "pretty hype." Gomez offered, "If I can get the crowd feeling how I’m feeling on stage then I know I’m doing something right, and I think to an extent we were able to achieve that through our playing."
Vandegrift concluded that "I hope we do this sort of thing more often." The Band program hopes to have combos out approximately monthly, and to offer an evening Jazz concert in December and in May. Hopefully we will see many people there!