All jazz groups are open to students from other concentrations within the university who demonstrate exceptional instrumental skills in their auditions.
The UConn Jazz Ensemble
In keeping with the selective nature of the UConn jazz studies program and the music department as a whole, the UConn Jazz Ensemble, unlike the typical 17-piece big band seen at most academic institutions, ranges from nine to 12 instrumentalists. The comparatively small size of the ensemble makes off-campus performances practical and facilitates instruction in improvisation and musical interaction within rehearsals. Each semester the Jazz Ensemble focuses on the music of a specific composer / arranger (or professional band). Past composers include Michael Abene, Phil Allen, Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Rob McConnell, Jim McNeely and Gerry Mulligan. The Jazz Ensemble is directed by Earl MacDonald, former musical director for Maynard Ferguson’s “Big Bop Nouveau” band. Professor MacDonald frequently composes and arranges new material specifically for the Jazz Ensemble. He also emphasizes the performance of student arrangements. The Jazz Ensemble’s debut recording, UConn Jazz, received favorable reviews.
The Jazz Lab Band
The 17-piece Jazz Lab Band is designed to function as a feeder system, training and developing students to climb the ranks from the Lab Band to the Jazz Ensemble. In rehearsals, the Lab Band focuses on sight reading and repertoire chosen to teach and reinforce the stylistic nuances of big band jazz. John Mastroianni, one of the nation’s most highly respected jazz educators, directs this ensemble. The Lab Band typically performs one on-campus concert per semester.
Under the guidance and direction of faculty members, students work together within assigned combos to develop proficiency in the art and craft of jazz improvisation and small-group jazz ensemble playing. Groups are often organized according to themes, where the repertoire of a specific jazz composer or genre is addressed. To prepare students for professional performance situations, the memorization of standard jazz repertoire is expected. Combos perform frequently on and off campus. Concerts and clinics are given at high schools throughout Connecticut.
The UConn Jazz Sextet, under the direction of Earl MacDonald, received an “outstanding” rating at the 2002 Elmhurst Jazz Festival and was selected to perform as the opening act for the Phil Woods Quintet in the festival’s final concert. The band was praised for its captivating arrangements and tight ensemble sound. Adjudicator Frank Mantooth referred to Ray Kingston’s drumming as “the best brushes I have heard in three days of adjudicating.” Saxophonist Mark Obolewicz was complimented for his “robust tenor sound and excellent technique.” Every member of the sextet received “outstanding performer” recognition.
In 2001 the sextet won the Villanova University Jazz Festival competition in Pennsylvania and performed on “the mainstage” at the Hartford International Jazz Festival.