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A young woman wearing a black dress singing on stage

“I imagine my level of comfort and skill with regard to improvisation may be different than others. Will this be considered in terms of my placement in a group?”

Yes-we attempt to place people with similar abilities together so as to increase the group comfort level as well as the musical improvement ability for each member, be it jazz combo or jazz ensemble.

“I may want to play in both the Jazz Ensemble and a Jazz Combo. Is this possible, and is this encouraged?”

Yes! We find intrinsic values are gained from having experiences with both of these musical environments. Learning ensemble concepts is valuable in a combo context to tighten up the presentation of a group. Learning a deeper sense of improvisation from doing it more in a combo context adds to your potential as a soloist in the Jazz Ensemble. We look at these as symbiotic entities.

“What is the difference between the Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Combo?”

For starters, size. The Jazz Ensemble has between 13-18 members while a “typical” jazz combo has 5-8 members. This also shows potential for repertoire. The Jazz Ensemble plays music culled from the past 100 years of Jazz. Each year we commission a top-rated composer to compose a piece for the Jazz Ensemble, so we literally play the most current of music as well. Jazz Combos perform music ranging from Real Book tunes through transcriptions and arrangements of non-jazz tunes, alongside original compositions from members or combo coaches.

The Jazz Ensemble performs 5-6 times per year, and the Combos have the same approach.

The Jazz Ensemble rehearses 2X/week for a total of 3 hours per week. Jazz Combos are coached and/or rehearse 2X per week for a total minimum of 2 hours.

“What are Auditions like?”

Each September, all students interested in participation in our Jazz Performance Program are asked to prepare a short  piece (as found on our website) to then facilitate a short and painless 10-minute audition. While evaluation of each person's musical skills is important, this also gives us the chance to meet you and chat about your musical goals pertaining to the immediate semester/year and beyond.

Rhythm section players are encouraged to perform from the provided piece and may be asked to present the piece focusing on different grooves/styles. Vocalists are encouraged to use scat syllables to present the audition piece and may also be asked to sing a tune from the American Songbook.

“I have additional questions. How can these get answered?”

Feel free to contact Bruce (bpdiehl@amherst.edu) and if it is of additional interest, we may be able to put you in touch with current students who tend to be a wonderful source of musical intel.