Students play in first performance of ‘Jazz@Webster Monday Night Concerts’

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In the basement of the Community Music School, music students and jazz fans enjoyed the camaraderie and musical stylings of the Student Jazz Combos concert on April 4.

As the first performance of an upcoming series of weekly “Jazz@Webster Monday Night Concerts,” the event featured two small student ensembles. Webster jazz professors Willem von Hombracht and Dave Black directed the concert.

Director of Jazz Studies Paul DeMarinis said disciplined preparation precedes each student combo performance, serving as an opportunity for students to hone their musical talent. Group rehearsals and a workshop-style masterclass address student skills that are necessary for concerts.

“Things that are specific to the repertoire [are] being played, but then also more general things that help to define them as skilled jazz performers: things about idiomatic approach to rhythm … how one acquires an improvisational vocabulary … It’s really a huge agenda,” DeMarinis said.

Because of the importance of improvisation in jazz, DeMarinis said students utilize rehearsal time to “acquire an improvisational vocabulary” and to build successful group interaction.

The opportunity for learning continues past the rehearsal process and even past the final concert. DeMarinis refers to each performance as a chance for students to learn through creating a space with the audience.

“You’re definitely not playing in a vacuum when you play these concerts. You are communicating with an audience, and crucial to communicating with audiences is the ability to communicate with the other musicians you’re playing with,” DeMarinis said.

This connection between performer and audience is one element of an ongoing learning process for Webster jazz musicians.

“Anytime [performers] pick up an instrument, it’s an opportunity to learn something,” DeMarinis said. “It could be you in the practice room, it could be you in a rehearsal, it could be you in a more formal setting of a concert, but there’s always feedback there. Even if it’s just you and an instrument, you are getting feedback from the instrument and from your own ears as you listen. So this is one step on a lifelong continuum.”

Henry Kress plays piano during the first performance for “Jazz@Webster Monday Night Concerts” on April 4, 2022. Photo by Vanessa Jones.

DeMarinis’s performance philosophy emphasizes the importance of communication with instruments, fellow musicians and the audience. This approach brings a sense of community for Henry Kress, student pianist for Willem von Hombracht’s combo, who notes his experience of performing as a Webster jazz musician.

“I’m excited to play tonight. I’ve become good friends with the musicians in my combo, and I feel like we’ll bring a relaxed energy,” Kress said. “I like doing these combo concerts because [of] how intimate they feel due to the smaller space and support of others in the music department.”

The community of live performances was a challenge to recreate during the height of the pandemic when concerts were held virtually. The Department of Music improvised by producing concerts through musical layering and image editing. DeMarinis calls some of these virtual concerts “creative” and cites the virtual era as “a learning experience for all.” He is glad, however, that concerts are in-person once again.

The next Jazz@Webster Monday Night Concert will take place on April 11 at 7 p.m. It will showcase more student jazz combos in room 10 of the Community Music School.

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