Alexandra O’Neal, Arts & Entertainment Correspondent
On Friday, November 8, Jacksonville State University Jazz Ensembles transformed the fifth floor of Meehan Hall into a jazz club. Saxophonist Brad Walker joined the ensembles for a night of jazz and entertainment.
Jacksonville State University Jazz is back this semester, presenting the campus with a new way of experiencing its music.
Last year, Jazz I was given the opportunity to record an album comprised of their very best repertoire, appropriately named “Everything in Its Right Place” at Bates Brothers Studio in Hueytown.
“It’s a very nice state-of-the-art facility, and the owners are super professional and really know what they’re doing,” says tenor saxophone player Jarrett Irish of the studio.
The musicians involved had a good idea of the opportunity provided to them, never taking their experience for granted and returning with unique takes on their personal benefits from their time in the studio.
“I think it’s important to have recording experience because whether you’re going to be a performer or an educator, you’re going to want to track your progress at some point in your career,” says Irish. “It’s better to do that and have that experience earlier on so when it’s your band or your school, you know what to expect going into it. Plus, it’s such a great way to grow as a musician.”
The members of Jazz I are pretty well acquainted with live performances, but according to some of the students, the experience in the studio was a little different.
“When you play a live show, you only have that one chance to play the chart to perfection,” says trumpet player, Mark Knauss. “In the recording studio, we spent hours just recording one or two songs, doing multiple takes on them just to make sure it was the best quality we could play. We still had that performance mindset when we recorded, keeping us as efficient as possible in the studio.”
The students had no issue holding themselves accountable for the task given to them, and though they were there to work, they still managed to enjoy themselves.
“Concerning the difficulty of music Jazz I plays, we want to compete with other top jazz ensembles in the country,” says Knauss. “My favorite tune we played was “Extra Credit.” It’s one of the harder tunes we’ve played, and it was great to see it come together into something that was put in our album.”
The students were equally impressed with their instructors’ contribution to their body of work. “Another one of my favorites is the Faculty Trio’s rendition of “Sweet Home Alabama,” adds Knauss. “We’re incredibly lucky to have some of the best musicians in the world teaching at JSU.”
As with any other musical endeavor, the students put an incredible amount of work into their album. “We knew about the recording since the beginning of that semester when Dr. Nevala passed out the music. So from the start, we knew what we were working for,” says bassist Nick Staff. “I think we put a little more effort in the charts because each and every note was going to be recorded and it had to be perfect. Everyone had an individual mic, so their part was recorded independently. It was pretty nerve-racking for a while.”
Dr. Andy Nevala provided several reasons for recording the album. “The main purpose was to give the students an opportunity to experience the recording studio environment,” explains Nevala. “The students were in an environment of high pressure, and there’s nowhere to hide. A second reason is to have something that’s representative of who we are and what we do as JSU Jazz.”
Nevala doesn’t hesitate to commend his students and colleagues on their work ethic as he continues to promote the jazz program, as well as the university, to the community and beyond. “For recruiting, no other jazz program in the state has a recording out that sounds as good as ours,” says Nevala. “As we get these [recordings] in the hands of people throughout the southeast, the reputation of JSU will grow in a positive way.”
The instructors and students expect one another to go above and beyond to further the cause of music, as often exhibited by Dr. Nevala. “Recording and releasing a CD is no easy task; it requires a monumental effort from the students and faculty involved. I spent many days driving to the studio to edit and mix,” explains Nevala. “You have to have a band good enough to record. You have to have the right songs rehearsed the right way. All in all, it was a lot of work.”
In the end, the students and their instructors were very proud of the finished product.
“It’s very satisfying knowing that my name is now in the history books for the professional development of our Jazz department,” says tenor saxophone player Jessica Creel.
Through hard work, musical imagination, and some of the most admirable accountability, the members of the JSU Jazz program have truly outdone themselves, and concerning its future, the possibilities are endless.
The album will be released at the March 5th Jazz Festival for a $10 donation.
For more information on JSU Jazz performance, visit jsujazz.webs.com. Merchandise featuring the music department and emsembles is available at all performances for a recommended donation.
On November 11, 2014, spectators from around the campus and community had the opportunity to see a performance by the David L. Walters Department of Music Jazz Program.
The four Big Bands presented their repertoire to the audience with musical and personal confidence.
Every single part is important, as was exhibited by percussionist Danny Moore on guiro. “It actually adds quite a lot to the piece musically,” he says.
Students build confidence knowing the importance of these parts, no matter how big or small they may seem to the audience.
“Often times, you’re the only person playing that part, so it brings out a lot of confidence,” says trombonist player, Susana Rivas. “You learn to keep mistakes to a minimum and recover from them quickly.”
Several of the students had the opportunity to solo during various pieces – another key to confidence building in jazz.
“You have to know your horn like you know your voice,” says trombonist Braden Barrentine. “If you can sing it, you should be able to play it,”
Most jazz student are painfully aware of the importance of developing their own style, whether through playing or conducting. Dabbling in all genres gives a little more depth and significance to the developing style of each musician, as it is really easy to mimic a teacher or instructor rather than create a unique style.
Music isn’t always about being satisfied and comfortable with what we hear or interpret; some people pat themselves on the back for dipping into a few artistic cultures, but immersion is essential.
Music, along with all art, takes patience. It takes patience to sit through a three hour opera or listen to a beginner muddle through “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” Jazz has a direct effect on each student and their idea of patience. They will literally do whatever it takes to be the best.
Non-musicians provide a totally different perspective at any concert, regardless of their reason for attendance.
“It was a great experience, and I enjoyed the atmosphere,” says JSU student, Dalton Moore.
Another student, Samantha Fowler, agreed. “It kind of adds a little culture to JSU,” says Fowler.
Other students attending the concert for academic responsibilities found the experience equally enjoyable.
“It was actually pretty enjoyable,” says JSU student Micah Kelley. “I may even start attending more of these concerts.”
In the end, that’s all any artists really wants; artists like for others to appreciate their world, even if it means just having something to talk about at lunch the next day.
Last Wednesday night, the JSU Jazz Department presented their Fall Jazz Showcase, featuring guest artist Lester Walker on trumpet.
The biggest theme apparent in this particular performance was the amount of trust shared between the students and their directors or instructors.
Students have to learn to trust different directors; they have to be very flexible under changing leadership, one of the many skills that prepares them for the real world.
Jazz involves musically trusting the musicians around you.
Music paints pictures and references allusions; it’s all about conversation and communication.
The students got to perform with professional trumpet player, Lester Walker.
According to bassist Trevor Stewart, working with a professional “teaches real world experience, especially when dealing with gigs.”
The students enjoyed performing with Walker, but his experience with the students was just as fulfilling.
Walker explained that his favorite part of working with young people is “the fact that they’re young and they’re trying.”
Walker says, “It’s simply amazing to see so many young people in this field; they bring a freshness to music that’s worth its weight in gold.”
A few of the students got to experience their musical world from the conductor’s perspective during the performance.
“It was a lot of fun,” explained tenor sax player, Jarrett Irish, who had the opportunity to direct Big Bands II and III.
“It’s literally two big bands put together, so it’s a little harder to cue solos. I tell them to signal me if they want a solo, so I have to scan the band really quickly to find the next soloist before the current soloist finishes. But it’s not as difficult as one would think.”
The idea of musical and creative trust really hit home with Irish. “It gives you a chance to cut loose and interact with the band a little bit.
Irish continues, “You also hear completely differently when you’re out front. You have to make sure everyone is blending and playing the same stylistically. It can be a bit of a challenge, especially when there’s no score.”
Some of the newer students were very pleased to find out that jazz can’t really be boxed up neatly and placed on a shelf.
Sadika Anderson, baritone sax, explained that his favorite was Jazz I’s rendition of Hunting Wabbits. “It starts out in a way that makes you wonder how in the world it’s considered jazz,” says Anderson.
The jazz program has been growing more and more successful each year.
Jazz professor, Dr. Andy Nevala, had a lot to say on the subject. “We wouldn’t be able to do any of the things we do – recording, bringing in guest artists – without support from the amazing staff of the David L. Walters Department of Music. Mainly it’s the students that choose to participate.”
“It’s our job, or more specifically my job, to provide a learning environment that’s directly connected to the real world the students will face when they graduate,” he asserts.
Nevala continues with, “The perception of what ‘Jazz Education’ means has changed drastically in the last 30 years; most of the music departments in colleges and universities today are struggling to catch up in the study of Jazz, holding on to the ideology of the study of music as being the same as studying relics and fossils in a museum.”
He continues, “Jazz Education today is the study of many different styles that make up Jazz, the history behind those styles, the social developments in our country that influenced those style changes, the different regions and areas of our country that influenced those styles (and why), and the performances, practices, and opportunities related to the different Jazz styles.”
Nevala believes that diversity and flexibility promote strength in any music department.
He says, “One of the reasons the program is growing is because most of our Jazz faculty are active performers in all musical styles, playing in symphony orchestras one night, church the next, a restaurant the next night, a salsa band the next night, a pit orchestra the next night, presenting research papers at conferences, arranging music for different ensembles, recording CDs, playing festivals – you name it, we are out there doing it.”
For more information on merchandise or future performances, visit jsujazz.webs.com.