After auditions on Tuesday, Aug. 30, director of the SRU Jazz Ensembles, Dr. Jason Kush, has very high expectations for this year’s groups. SRU features four jazz groups, including the Jazz Ensemble, the Lab Jazz Band, and two Jazz Combos.
Kush first came to Slippery Rock University as a student in the time when famed jazz musician Terry Steele was a professor in the music department.
“I actually came to Slippery Rock for two reasons,” Kush said. “Studying saxophone with Terry Steele and being able to play in the jazz ensemble. That was my passion then, and Slippery Rock had a really great jazz ensemble.”
Kush returned later to teach at Slippery Rock because it meant he would be returning to his alma mater to do what he loved: teaching saxophone and working with the jazz groups.
Nathan Turley, a junior music major and a member of the top level Jazz Ensemble, is glad to still be performing and working with jazz groups after years of experience in grade school and high school.
“My experience started back when I was in middle school, playing jazz on trombone,” Turley said. “It’s always been something that interested me.”
Later on, in high school, Turley attended a few jazz festivals here at Slippery Rock and he became thoroughly interested in the program; that’s when he decided he would absolutely audition for the music program.
Turley hopes that the ensemble will continue its tradition of performing quality music and concerts for people and audiences to enjoy. As for himself, he simply wants to gain enough ability so that he can help maintain the level of professionalism that the group is known for.
Luke Barnes, freshman music education major and member of the Lab Jazz Band, also has a bit of previous experience beginning his sophomore year of high school, when he auditioned on trumpet for his high school jazz band. Barnes says he has always loved jazz music and the interesting aspects that accompany the improvisational music genre.
“You have a lot of freedom while playing jazz, and every time you play a song, there’s always something different about it,” Barnes said.
Even though the majority of members in the jazz ensembles are music majors, Dr. Kush said that auditions and the groups themselves are open to all fields of study.
“One thing we tell anyone that’s coming to Slippery Rock is that if they’re a great trumpet player or a great saxophone player and they audition well, they get in the group; it doesn’t matter what their major is,” Kush said of the diversity within the ensembles. “We’re just looking to put the right people in the right chairs.”
This will be the sixth year the jazz ensembles are directed by Dr. Kush; the Jazz Ensemble is also working toward producing its eighth music album.
Kush has also arranged for three internationally known jazz musicians to come and hold master classes for the jazz students throughout the semester; these musical guests will also be holding concerts in the evenings. On October 13, Hal Galper and his trio, which includes saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, will be featured, and on October 30, Joel Frahm, a well-known saxophonist from New York City will share his knowledge.
The groups will also be holding three on-campus concerts this semester, as well as one off-campus. In October, the Jazz Ensemble will be performing at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille in Warrendale. On October 18, the Jazz Ensemble will be presenting the music of Count Basie, one of the most famous and influential jazz bandleaders in history. About a month later, on Nov. 8, the Jazz Combos will perform, and the jazz groups will finish off the semester with the Jazz Ensemble and the Jazz Lab Band splitting a concert on Dec. 6.