A little bit of jazz, a little bit of improv and a magical performance

The Jazz Improvisation Ensemble performed an electric show for audience members

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Lily Arovas '23, Joe Grisanzio '23, Owen Yingling '21, Marc Szechter '21 (Partially obscured June Tejada '22 and Sam Kaplan '23) // Photo by Alexandra Rivers '21

From the outside of the Baker Center for the Arts, one wouldn’t think anything special was happening on the evening of Nov. 9. However, if one walked through the double doors and entered the Recital Hall, they would hear the excited chatter of audience members as they awaited for the Jazz Improvisation Ensemble to take the stage. For the first time in two years, the ensemble group would perform in person, and the excitement in the air was palpable.  

Led by Musical Director Ted Conner, Ph.D., the ensemble group played through six songs that were exciting and complex, with a heavy emphasis on improvisation. When asked about how these songs were chosen, Conner revealed that at the start of the semester, he presented the group with about 40 songs. They played through the selections in order to decide which one the group liked best and which ones had interesting arrangement ideas. In contrast to other ensembles, the director would usually have a fixed list of songs and that would be what the ensemble played. “Because we’re improvising all the time, we may have an affinity for a particular tune where we as an ensemble interact nicely with each other, and we can’t predict something like that,” said Conner. 

“Because we’re improvising all the time, we may have an affinity for a particular tune where we as an ensemble interact nicely with each other, and we can’t predict something like that.”

– Ted Conner, Ph.D.

The Jazz Improvisation Ensemble is particularly unique in the sense that it is personalized. Every member had their chance to shine through a series of solos during their performance. Throughout the concert, there were two pianists who would take turns playing with the band, and Conner highlighted that, “It was really fun and interesting to see how the vibe of the group changed, depending on which pianist was playing.” As a whole, the jazz band is very interactive, with every member playing a crucial role to their overall sound. 

 Conner commented that it was really great working with these individuals. “I’m not particularly authoritative, as it’s really about providing a space for them to learn and listen. Often after rehearsal, we’ll go around the room and everyone will say what they liked, something they want to improve on, what really stuck with them. Sometimes they’ll talk about what they did, sometimes they’ll talk about what someone else did, some aspect of another person’s playing that they really liked or was able to latch onto. It’s this kind of communal process of learning and creating. Essentially, we’re composing together.”

Owen Yingling ‘22, a vocalist from the ensemble, similarly described the environment as being welcoming and open. He commented that, “Working with this group has always been a thrill. Every single one of the musicians is dedicated to their craft and comes ready to try out new ideas each week. I had never done any improvisational singing before, but rehearsals have such a fun and laid back atmosphere that I never felt overwhelmed while learning this new skill. Before college, I never really considered joining an improv group, but I feel super grateful for the opportunity now. From a creativity standpoint, it’s helped me so much as a performer.” 

“Every single one of the musicians is dedicated to their craft and comes ready to try out new ideas each week.”

– Owen Yingling ’22

Yingling also thought that the concert went really well and that there was a really great energy in the room. The audience definitely seemed to agree, as they danced along in their seats and applauded every solo throughout the show. 

Yingling expressed that, “It was so cool to see how much each member of the group has grown from the beginning of the semester.”

 It was particularly interesting to see how each member would look and listen to each other during the performance. When one of the pianists would repeat a musical phrase, the drummer and bassist would pick up on it and repeat it. When a vocalist would soften, the rest followed, and when the vocalist would increase in pitch and volume, they would too. As a group, they were able to highlight every member of the ensemble. There was a really strong sense of communication and way of feeding off one another that left the audience in awe of their performance, which ended in a standing ovation. 

If anyone is hesitant to join the jazz ensemble, Conner said, “Come on down, it’s an incredibly welcome group. It’s risky and different from classical music, but it’s a safe environment to experiment and try new things.”

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Keanna Peña '25 is an English and Creative Writing major with a minor in Dance. She is a managing editor for The Weekly and loves writing about student events on campus and sharing her poetry.

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