Undergrad jazz culture grows

The Yale Jazz Collective will host biweekly “Jazz at the Underbrook” events throughout the year.
The Yale Jazz Collective will host biweekly “Jazz at the Underbrook” events throughout the year. Photo by Maria Zepeda .

The jazz movement at Yale that was reawakened last year has not lost steam: Jazz is here to stay.

On Monday night, the Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective, a group of undergraduate musicians and jazz aficionados, sponsored a showcase and jam session. Over 60 freshmen filled the Saybrook Underbrook theater for an evening of standard jazz, jazz fusion, swing and more. The group’s organization and ability to drum up interest in the genre speaks to the success of a series of initiatives begun last year to promote jazz on campus, Jazz Collective President Will Gearty ’14 said.

“[We’re] trying to increase awareness of jazz on campus … to bring jazz to Yale for everyone,” Gearty said, adding that the organization is as open to listeners as to active jazz musicians.

To increase its campus presence, the Jazz Collective will host a small festival this fall, preceding a larger festival in February. The fall festival, which will take place from Oct. 17 to 19, will center on renowned jazz pianist David Hazeltine. Recruited through School of Music jazz professor Willie Ruff, Hazeltine will officially serve as a “three-day resident” during the festival and participate in events including a concert, a master class and a Saybrook College Master’s Tea, Gearty said.

Gearty added that the group also hopes to host a large festival each year. This February’s festival is the Jazz Collective’s second annual jazz festival and will open with the University-sponsored Yale Jazz Ensemble. The Ensemble, organized by Yale Bands Director Thomas Duffy, plays only “big band music,” said Alexander Dubovoy ’16, vice-president of the Jazz Collective. “Big band” jazz is more standard and organized than some other jazz styles that emphasize smaller groups and more improvisation. Since the University does not sponsor any small combo groups, Dubovoy said the Jazz Collective was instrumental in creating opportunities for him to meet other musicians, in addition to sponsoring master classes and jam sessions.

“The Jazz Collective changed my life as a freshman,” Dubovoy said.

The Jazz Collective’s Monday event opened with Julian Reid ’13, the group’s former vice-president, playing an original composition for solo piano. He was followed by three student groups: two small jazz combo groups — “Tonic” and the “Bluebird Jazz Trio” — and the a capella blues group “Redhot and Blue.” Some freshmen brought instruments to the showcase, and played together in a jam session after the scheduled performances.

“I came tonight because I have an appreciation of jazz, and to see how I can improve myself,” said Madison Masters ’17, a freshman who participated on Monday.

Isaac Morrier ’17, another jazz musician, had seen the Jazz Collective on the Musicians at Yale Facebook group before coming to Yale.

“I’m here to find other musicians to play with,” Morrier said.

At least a dozen of the freshmen attendees came solely to listen. Dubovoy said he was “astounded” by how much interest he has seen in jazz over the past week, from musicians and listeners alike.

Saybrook College Master Paul Hudak said he supports the Jazz Collective by helping the group request funding from the Undergraduate Organizations Committee, the Arts Council and Saybrook College itself. He added that the college has been revamping the Saybrook Underbrook Theater — most recently through refurbishing its piano — where the Jazz Collective will host biweekly concerts this year. These performances, called “Jazz at the Underbrook,” will feature performances by professional groups from New Haven and New York, as well as student groups. On off weeks, the group will host open jam sessions in the Saybrook common room.

Hudak explained that while jazz performances at the Underbrook used to be combined with Saybrook’s CoffeeHouse Coda arts showcase, the event’s length often dissuaded audience members from staying the entire time.

The next Jazz Collective event will take place in the Saybrook Underbrook on Sep. 20.

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