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Davis, California

Monday, February 26, 2024

UC Davis Jazz Ensembles to take Mondavi Center stage

Prepare for an evening of swing and soul, brought to you by fellow Aggies. On Nov. 20, the UC Davis Jazz Ensembles will be performing at the Mondavi Center.

Both the University’s Jazz Combo and Jazz Big Band will be performing that night. The Jazz Combo comprises of eight musicians, collectively focusing on small-group jazz and improvisation. The Jazz Big Band, on the other hand, comprises of more musicians and focuses on large-scale, elaborate pieces.

Sam Griffith is the director of both ensembles. He describes how each group ultimately manifests different and unique sounds.

“For the combo, the personalities of the musicians are really going to shine,” Griffith said. “You’re really going to get to hear and find out more about a few of the individual performers. The big band is much more focus[ed] on the effort it takes for the entire group to come together and play this music. It’s going to be very challenging. Some of the tunes they’re playing are especially difficult and [there are] a lot of musicians in the big band. So it’s really going to be about all these musicians coming together and playing exciting music.”

The performance will showcase a variety of music that dates from the 1930s to the 1960s. The Jazz Combo will specifically focus on the music of hard bop drummer Art Blakey, while the Big Band has a more diverse program in store.

Second-year philosophy and political science double major and tenor saxophonist Nick Jensen expressed his excitement for one of the pieces.

“I’m looking forward to playing ‘Groove Merchant’ with the Jazz band, because it has a really cool sax soli and that’s fun to play,” Jensen said. “[A soli] is where all saxophones play at the same time. It’s from a big band that happened in the ’60s, but it feels pretty current.”

While many of the performance pieces are nostalgic for another age, the ensembles expressed that they have been working hard to present them in a refreshing manner. Griffith explains how musical interpretation is a critical focus for both groups.

“Interpretation is a tricky thing we’re dealing with right now,” Griffith said. “With the Big Band, everybody has to interpret things the same or relatively close, otherwise we’re going to have like 23 different interpretations. So far, the journey in that band has been about everybody coming together and playing things in similar styles. The combo offers much more room for interpretation, adaptation and looking at things a little differently.”

Music graduate student and bassist player Alex Carlin shared his take on the ensembles’ progress thus far.

“I like the groups; I think everybody’s a great player and there’s a lot of good energy. I think we’re all beginning to play together pretty nicely,” Carlin said.

With a variety of music and style, the UC Davis Jazz Ensembles have seemingly prepared an exciting evening for Mondavi Center patrons. The performance is set to be full of personality and catchy tunes.

Tickets are $8 to $12 and can be purchased online at mondaviarts.org or at the Mondavi Center ticket office.



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