Jazz players and lovers alike braved the chilly temperatures on Friday evening to enjoy an exhibition from all three UNI jazz bands and jazz combos. The concert took place in front of the West Gym; audience members set up lawn chairs and picnic blankets to watch the bands.
To kick off the concert, Jazz Band III – directed by a graduate student in UNI’s jazz pedagogy program Luke Sanders – performed their entire set. They performed a mix of classic jazz as well as more contemporary tunes.
Following Jazz Band III’s performance was five different jazz combos made up of UNI jazz students. Jazz Band II then took the stage to perform “Get Happy,” arranged by Jazz Band I director and professor of jazz studies Chris Merz. The concert was closed by Jazz Band I’s performance of “Black Nile” arranged by UNI alum Paul McKee.
Many of the songs played were composed or arranged by UNI students or alum.
“As usual, it’s a pretty UNI-intensive evening in terms of repertoire,” Merz said. “We like to do that. Combos are mostly going to be playing original music. It’s not going to be a whole bunch of things really familiar to anybody, which is kind of nice.”
Jazz studies students like Jazz Band II trombonist Maggie Cremers were excited for the performance opportunity, as COVID-19 has limited the number of performances put on this year.
“It’s been a weird year without many opportunities to play for an audience, so I think we’re all excited for the chance to show people that we have been able to make some music,” Cremers said. “It’s exciting to get to play it outside where we can all hear each other compared to the restrictions that we have to deal with indoors right now.”
She continued, “I really enjoy the faculty in the jazz program here. They are super knowledgeable and fun to work with. We get to play a lot of fun music from a lot of different styles and also work on improvisation during our rehearsals which isn’t true in every big band.”
Restrictions in rehearsals due to the pandemic has made playing more difficult compared to past years, and limited performance opportunities.
“(COVID-19) has made it very challenging to play music,” Jazz Band II director and assistant professor of jazz studies Mike Conrad said. “Especially music that is highly rhythmic, like jazz.”
He continued, “The students have figured out how to work in that environment and to kind of make the best of it. When we’ve been able to, we’ll get outside and that’s been really nice because with the barriers removed everyone can hear each other a little bit more and kind of a glimpse of what we were more accustomed to. Being able to hear everyone and blend, and just play at a higher level.”
Merz is also proud of his students who have adapted to the abnormal rehearsals and performances.
“I’m just so gratified that the students have kept their spirits up all year long despite the compromised rehearsal and performance schedule,” Merz said. “I’m just really looking forward to getting back to normal. Of course, what we love doing more than anything is making music with each other, so I’m looking forward to getting some sense of normalcy soon.”