New student jazz to debut tonight

This evening, the Yale Jazz Ensemble will premiere a collection of original jazz pieces.

In Sprague Memorial Hall, the Yale Jazz Ensemble will present its third of four concerts that will take place this academic year. The performance is the first YJE concert to showcase exclusively student-written pieces, featuring four pieces composed by current members of the group and three alumni creations, said Thomas Duffy, School of Music professor and the director of University bands. While the opportunity to perform original compositions did not result in a significantly different practice method, both student composers and other members of the ensemble said it proved to be a creatively engaging experience.

Garth Neustadter MUS ’12, the ensemble’s assistant director who won a primetime Emmy award for his score for the PBS documentary “John Muir in the New World,” said he was excited to see his piece “Express Delivery” performed in a public setting for the first time, explaining that opportunities to perform original jazz compositions are often limited.

“This is a special performance because it focuses primarily on the works of Yale jazz performers,” Neustadter said. “It’s not always possible to get your works performed, especially when you do jazz.”

While the focus on original composition will unite the works performed, the lineup of pieces incorporates many different styles within the jazz genre, Duffy said. Alexandra Pappas ’15, one of the ensemble’s members, said that the blend of pieces made the concert different from a typical jazz performance. Alyssa Hasbrouck ’14, another YJE performer, added that the pieces range from fast bebop and salsa to funk and swing.

Hasbrouck added that such variety is typical of YJE concerts, explaining that while today’s performance is the first to feature entirely student-written music, the group does not always play “traditional” pieces.

“There are some pieces of music that are considered standards in the jazz ensemble world, but even if we play one of them, we always try to have a diverse selection of songs,” she said. “We are always pushing the edges of what we can do as a group.”

Both Hasbrouck and ensemble member Zoe LaPalombara ’13 said that for the most part, the process of preparing the performance did not differ significantly from the group’s usual practice methods, adding that the group usually plays a few student-composed songs at each concert.

Still, Neustadter and three students interviewed said that the ability to discuss each piece with its composer helped the ensemble understand it better.

“You get to know a little more about your fellow musicians through the music they write or arrange,” Pappas said. “You get a better, more personal explanation of musical ideas that sometimes can’t really be communicated through ink on a page.”

Hasbrouck said that during rehearsals a few pieces were still works in progress, so each composer would occasionally edit his or her song after hearing the group play it. She added that the presence of the composers compelled the ensemble to try especially hard to perform each piece perfectly.

The Yale Jazz Ensemble is composed of 16 instrumentalists who play saxophone, trumpet, trombone, piano, bass, drums and guitar.

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