Looking at Amherst? Play/Sing/Study Jazz?

Currently in the midst of the dreaded college hunt?  Making those pro/con charts?  We love to talk to prospective students about any questions you may have regarding the Jazz scene here at the College.  Have a look at our FAQ's below and please follow these simple steps in order to make the process as easy as possible:

  1. INTRODUCE YOURSELF.  Please send an email to bpdiehl@amherst.edu with the subject line "Prospective Student: <your name>" so we can start a conversation about a potential future here at Amherst. Include information (as formal as you wish) about what instrument(s)/voice you play and where you are from.
  2. VISIT US.  We welcome you to join us in rehearsals on M/W evenings, 7pm-11pm.  Bring your instrument or inform us of what you need so we can hear you and start the admissions process.  It is also possible to meet with Bruce, Prof. Robinson and/or Prof. Harper as you travel through Amherst.  Be in touch to organize this.  Note-there is often a Jazz-related course being offered on all days of the week and there are jazz combo rehearsals that take place on all days and nights of the week.  It is a great opportunity for you to hear (and sit in) with us in our ensembles and/or classes.
  3. FILL OUT AN ARTS SUPPLEMENT.  If you are serious about playing music at the college level, this is a first step for most institutions.  This way, you can be on our radar for as long as possible.  The guidelines for the Amherst Arts Suppliment are found here.  Jazz@Amherst also has additional suggestions, seen below:
    1. Please submit samples for as many styles of music (jazz, classical, pop, folk, etc.) that you believe will advocate for your admission.
    2. If possible, separate the different examples by track rather than create one long track.  Please label ALL tracks.  As the process moves to all-electronic, it is hugely important that you label your submission with a great deal of accuracy and specificity.   Please indicate at what point your solo voice can be heard if it is tucked within an ensemble piece.
    3. Please specify your specific instrument(s), and your comfort level on each instrument you play (i.e. "Advanced Alto Saxophone" rather than "woodwinds").
    4. Please make sure that your submission is accessible without the need to log in to a cloud server or other password-encoded mass storage space.
  4. STAY IN TOUCH.  Our most successful applicants are actively on our radar from before they arrive on campus.  Let us know about new and exciting muical endeavors going on in your lives at High School and in other areas.



"I am passionate about music but plan to focus my study in other areas. Can I still plan to participate in the Jazz Ensemble or a Jazz Combo?"

You bet! We estimate that our performance groups are staffed by 90% non-majors who all have a high level of passion for performance and study of this great music.


"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 tuns 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 and painless piece (as found on our website) to then facilitate a short 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.

Rhythm section players are encouraged to perform from the 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 and if it helps, we may be able to put you in touch with current students who tend to be a wonderful sourse of musical intel.


Thanks for visiting our site, good luck with this process, and we look forward to hearing from you!