While the drummer keeps a slow and steady beat, to his right a stand-up bass, a foot taller than the student playing it, reacts accordingly. Feeling the synergy, professors Tom Mensch and guest artist Joey Tartell tap their feet to the rhythm, playing saxophone and trumpet respectively. They begin to trade solos or, as they say in jazz lingo, begin “swinging it.”
The TJC jazz band played loud and confidently March 23 and 24 at the Jazz Festival at Caldwell Auditorium. This followed up performances for senior citizens in the fall and playing with the Pop Orchestra in the winter.
Mrs. Heather Mensch, who is the wife of TJC band director Mr. Mensch, as well as the music professor and the jazz band leader said, “We play different styles at each of our shows.”
Tartell, a professional trumpeter, was a source of excitement for the students. He allowed the band to modernize, and that made the young musicians eager to learn.
“When the students had a professional around, their eyes really opened up,” Mensch said. “Them being able to play with someone like that has really been a learning experience for them and it allows them to drive the engine a bit now instead of just trying to catch up.”
Colt Keeny, the bass player for jazz 2 ensemble, said, “playing jazz opens up so many avenues musically. I’ve played bass forever, but now I can read music and play within a group much better.”
Basic musical knowledge, such as staying in key and reading sheet music, is also not where the experience ends. ” It’s so much different than any other group at TJC because we get to do our own thing sometime, we get to express ourselves on our own where an actor is saying someone else’s words” said Keeny.
All students in the jazz band mention being in the group as one of their best experiences at TJC. Jobby Baza, who contains a glimmer in his eye while watching the second year ensemble improvise without error, said, “it’s an honor to be the students who are going to replace these guys, and to be learning from music professors who are truly very talented.”
The professors make an effort for the students to enjoy themselves and show that joy in performance. Mrs. Mesnch said, ” jazz should be a party on the stage, and the emotion and personality should show”. Keeny said that “it is the most involvement I’ve had with anything at TJC, and it has really made me more serious about college in general because I am doing something I love.”
” You don’t get a chance to play with other jazz players too much, because it’s not a big attraction in a small town. In this organization it’s very much about the music, the playing together. Playing music together is a relationship all to itself,” said Mr.Mensch, who takes an active role in helping the ensemble.
The key statement who made is that jazz music is no longer a big attraction. Never the less, it is tied to American History, in fact it is America’s sole native art form. Had a decade literally dubbed ” The Jazz Age” in the 20’s, and an entire subculture, which came afterwards in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, saw them as their forefathers.
“Jazz is basically where modern music comes from, and it’s also the only music you can hear in another country and it still sounds American” said Mrs. Mensch. Shelby Etheridge, a sophomore saxophonist, said “the ensemble has opened me up to a hundred years of jazz music…guys like Miles Davis and John Coltrane.”
Its influence continues today, sampled by hip hop artist like Kanye West, infused into the melodies and chord structures of indie rock bands like Grizzly Bear, and used as an aesthetic to sing in an old fashioned style, like Michael Buble.
Keeny, who has been playing rock and folk for most of his life, said, “learning and studying jazz is something every aspiring musician should do. It’s based so much around playing off and with other people, and playing improvisatory music within the confines of a band, which is what every great band does. Its complex but free music where the personality of the artist really bleeds through.”
Although the ensemble has no financial ground to gain, they get most excited about people being introduced to jazz. Etheridge said “its great that people show up and like it. It seems like old fashioned music but its loud and exciting…it’s very complex but its fun music first.”
Mrs. Mensch is very excited about where her students are going, noting that “around the spring time the level of there play rises as we figure who’s good at what and where the talent lies. They really grow together and no two ensembles ever sound the same. The good thing is they always want to get better.”
On April 23 they will be playing at Gene Brown, which will be the first performance on campus this year. It will be free and “more improvisatory” than other performances according to Mensch, and she is “excited to see the band after all the experience they’ve gained.”
The performance is what the ensemble has been working for all year, and a chance to show everyone their skills. More than that, it is another experience for these young budding musicians trying to improve their craft. Keeny said he couldn’t wait to play because ” music is always about playing again, because that’s how you get better”.