When people hear the term ‘jazz,’ many think of jazz as being one style, but according to saxophone, combo one and instrumental improvisation professor Dr. Jason Kush, there are many different styles that SRU’s jazz band demonstrates.
“We are what’s considered a modern jazz ensemble,” Kush explained. “We perform traditional big band music like Duke Ellington to modern big bands that came out in the 1970s, like Thad Jones/Mel Luis jazz orchestra. We also do some modern pieces that have recently been composed.”
A Slippery Rock alumni and director of the jazz band, Kush has been teaching at SRU for four years. He said the jazz band also performs styles such as west coast jazz and east coast jazz.
“West coast jazz tends to be more commercial and clean sounding, like a Christina Aguilera CD, it’s very artificial,” Kush said. “East coast jazz is more adventurous and soulful. The recordings are live, so there’s less editing and post production.”
Freshman music education major Walker Marpz explained other techniques the jazz band displays in their music.
“Jazz music is largely improv and solos,” Marpz said. “Improv is where you get to put your own input into a song, to express what you’re feeling right there through your music. Another big thing is communication while you’re performing and just making sure you’re in sync with what everyone else is doing.”
Dr. David Glover, percussion professor and chair of the music department, agreed with Marpz and explained why he thinks that improvisation is important for students.
“I hope they get a sense of self through their improv,” Glover said. “You can learn a lot about yourself when it’s just you and your instrument. They’re learning a lot of music theory and history of their instrument and the music, as well as how to carry on a conversation with each other musically. Improv is a very unique thing and it will never be the same twice.”
Director of the jazz lab band, Glover has been teaching at SRU for 11 years. He explained that communication through music is the most important part about playing an instrument.
“Jazz is very much a language that involves vocabulary and grammar, creating and presenting phases very much like speech in a non-verbal way,” Glover said. In general, there is a relationship between dialogue and how that relates to improvisation. The more you can help people to understand that relationship, the more they build their vocabulary and speech around that transfer.”
Sitting in his office, Glover elaborated more on what the jazz lab band is and how it differs from the regular jazz band.
“Our goal with jazz lab has been trying to take students who have never played in jazz and give them practical real world experience,” Glover explained. “We don’t perform as much as the jazz band. We perform once at the end of each semester, whereas jazz band performs multiple times throughout the year. With jazz lab, we read as much music as possible to give students that emersion into jazz literature.”
Marpz, 17, said he is the guitarist in the jazz band and explained why he wanted to be a part of the group.
“I’ve always been a fan of jazz,” Marpz smiled. “The jazz program is really amazing and it made me want to come to SRU. Our directors are cream of the crop of what they do. It’s always been something that I can express myself with, feeling most comfortable with an instrument in my hand. I’m very privileged to have made it into this group and thankful to work with such a great group of musicians.”