Experiences at UNT Jazz – Part 3 – Jazz Chamber Music

The continuing the saga of Roger at the University of North Texas (UNT) Jazz Studies program included 5 semesters of Jazz Chamber Music classes.

This was the UNT small jazz ensemble program. First of all, much like the Lab Band classes, your degree program would call for 1 instance, but everyone would enroll multiple semesters because it was so important to your skill development and overall experience at UNT Jazz. Here’s the way it worked.

The whole group of 100 or so of enrolled students would attend the first session of the semester in the Kenton Hall. The purpose of the first meeting was to assemble the combos for the semester. At the go command, we would mingle and discuss and join with other students you knew or maybe people you just met that day. We would, in essence, make a deal with fellow students to form a group for the rest of the semester. As a trumpeter, I would work to assemble or join a group with a piano-bass-drums trio plus one or 2 other horn players. Result was a quintet with sax, or maybe a sextet with sax and trombone. Sometimes a guitarist in the mix, with or without piano. The worst case scenario would be having to walk around the room asking, “Does anyone need a trumpet player?” And the likely answer also explains why trumpeters often lead their own groups.

Your newly formed combo would then set up a rehearsal schedule, usually in the evenings, outside of normal school hours. Locations varied, to include at school facilities and at member’s homes. I was group leader 3 times. In addition to the music aspects, this was also an exercise in teamwork development. After all, any musical ensemble functions as a team – small groups even more so. Personalities, likes and dislikes, punctuality and reliability, and many similar traits get involved. Sometimes things went well, sometimes they didn’t.

I was in two groups that had problems. Often the sticking point was tune choices. One time I really pushed hard to play one of my latest compositions. We tried and tried. It was fast in tempo and complex, and it wasn’t working. Finally some members voiced their displeasure, and I backed off. We picked something else and worked well together from then on.

The main performance venue for all the groups was called the Jazz Forum. Meeting mid-afternoon each week in Kenton Hall, each group got to put on the show once or twice in the semester for the rest of the Jazz Chamber Music students and selected UNT Jazz faculty, who would critique your groups performance at the end of the show. Performances ran the gamut from very good to brilliant; many were quite adventuresome in trying new approaches. The results made for very interesting jazz before a very discerning audience.

The groups thus formed often reappeared in graduate recitals and formed relationships lasting long after graduation. Snarky Puppy probably started in the UNT Jazz Chamber Music program. Playing in small ensembles is probably the greatest and most valuable experience you can have in jazz. As a soloist in a big band, you wait for your turn to come up in the music. As a member of a small ensemble, your turn always comes up in the music. If you enjoy playing and have something to say, this is great fun.

So there you have it. UNT Jazz and other fine jazz programs in the nation offer a wide range of educational experiences. In addition to the discussed Lab Bands, improvisation and Jazz Chamber Music, I could also share experiences learning theory, composition, arranging, musicology, music history and more. It was a great adventure that led to our wonderful 17 years in Pensacola and being a part of the Pensacola Jazz scene.

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