UC Jazz blows the horn on upcoming concert

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The leaves are turning, the temperature is getting cooler and the UC Jazz Ensembles is back for its annual fall concert at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse. Three advanced combos, headed by Ted Moore, Frank Martin, and Dann Zinn, respectively, will take the stage and push the genre of jazz toward the landscape of funk, Latin, rock and much more. In an interview with The Daily Californian, Charles McMurry, one of the members of Martin’s combo, spoke about the upcoming concert.

Charles McMurry is a junior at UC Berkeley, where he studies business and economics. McMurry started on the piano, eventually moving on to the alto saxophone as he got more serious about music. A love for jazz pushed McMurry toward the Bay Area, which “prides itself for showing that jazz isn’t just a genre of music that doesn’t exist anymore. Few things are off-limits to play, and there is a continuous urge for jazz to grow.” After class is over, McMurry and his combo, composed mostly of STEM majors, get together and jam out.

The Frank Martin combo is made up of alto, soprano and tenor saxophonists with bass, drums, guitar and keys to round it out. McMurry spoke to Martin’s ability, saying, “He’s our director with decades worth of experience. It’s through his creativity that we are able to perform such innovative arrangements.”

Speaking more about the strengths of UC Jazz in comparison to similar departments, McMurry said, “Most programs have big band jazz, which is about 15 to 16 musicians. There’s a more orchestral quality to that. The unique thing about UC Jazz is it’s made entirely of ensembles, seven to eight people max, which allows for more listing and improvising from each member. There is an individual component where you are put on the spot more. It’s a huge reason why such diverse compositions are being played. Each person has a say.”

The improvisation aspect of jazz makes it one of the most complex forms of music today. Players are expected to be in tune with each other through each beat, taking the time to know precisely when to solo, back up or stay silent without saying a word to one another. Referring to how the combos are able to build up a proper rapport, McMurry remarked, “Our rhythm section — the piano, bass, and guitar — are keeping time. They’re the glue that holds the songs together and enable other people to explore ideas. It’s an entirely collaborative process. Most of our practices are spent talking through songs and what each member wants out of them. A few days ago, we spent a bunch of time just talking about how we wanted to end a song.”

All three combos are expected to offer a diverse range of styles as groups will range from eight members down to four. Every player has a different approach to the music, which produces a new palette of challenges and decisions for the combos. “The audience will see a variety of different structures and moods. Musicians have their musical quirks and preferences on how they attack a piece. I guarantee that each member shapes the jazz ensemble they perform with.”

On top of the high-octane tightrope act that is improvisation, McMurry also views the concert as a way for the Berkeley community to unwind and appreciate traditional music pushed toward groundbreaking directions. “This is going to be a great time to relax and enjoy the expression of individual musicians. It’s really fascinating to see music that is all impromptu rather than produced ahead of time. The performative aspects of music are highlighted in a setting like this.”

McMurry wrapped the conversation by ruminating, “I’m sorry if I talked so much about jazz. Sometimes one of my friends will ask me a tiny question about it, and I’ll just go on for 20 minutes talking about so many other things … I love it.” It’s clear that UC Jazz is gearing up for one of their most exhilarating shows yet. Tickets for the UC Jazz Ensembles concert will be $20 for adults and $8 for students. The performance will run from 8-10 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29 at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse.

Contact Jake Lilian at [email protected].