When Caroline Cook ’19 asked a group of sophomores for the name of their band at Coffeehouse, they did not know what to say, bassist Sam Baron ’19 said.
Baron, vocalist Charlie Kogen ’19, saxophonist Roshan Nayar ’19, drummer Jack Riley ’19, trumpeter Ryan Wixen ’19, vocalist Jordan Yadegar ’19 and guitarist Jacob Lapin ’19, who has since left the band, had only been playing together during free periods, and they had decided to sign up for the first Coffeehouse of the 2016-2017 school year as a joke.
“The Jack Riley Experience,” Nayar said to Cook, laughing to his bandmates.
However, the name stuck. The Jack Riley Experience kicked off its first performance with “September” by Earth, Wind and Fire, and they have played at every Coffeehouse since. As the performances have progressed over the past year, Riley said the band’s dynamic has evolved.
“We’re taking performances more seriously and getting written parts together, which has really sparked more commitment and enthusiasm from everyone,” Riley said. “What started out as a big joke really surprised us in a way we did not expect.”
With their increased commitment to their performances, the Jack Riley Experience is becoming more recognized, Baron said; the band was invited to perform at the school’s annual Christmas Service of Lessons and Carols last December. The band members’ favorite and most transformative performance, however, was at Jaya Nayar ’20’s birthday party this year, which was their first performance outside of the school.
“It really felt [like] after the party, we put [out] something comprehensive,” Baron said. “After performing, I was looking at it like with the experience we gained today, we could probably go on, and we could do stuff like that again.”
The group’s dedication to the Jack Riley Experience and their passions for music has culminated into close friendships that Yadegar said he had not expected.
“When we first formed The Experience, I was only good friends with a few of the members,” Yadegar said. “It’s amazing how, over the course of only a little more than a year, we’ve formed such a strong bond. We have such a great time with each other, and since we each bring a different musical background to the table, we often find ourselves wasting rehearsal hours just messing around making music that we’re not really working on, simply because we just enjoy it.”
Their unique backgrounds in jazz theory, as well as the jazz program, has helped to develop the Jack Riley Experience’s style and create an identity directly tied to the school, Kogen said.
“We are the native Harvard-Westlake band,” Kogen said. “We were created at Harvard-Westlake, and I feel like we have a presence at Harvard-Westlake.”
Although the band’s future after high school is unclear, Yadegar said the Jack Riley Experience will always have roots at Harvard-Westlake.
“Whenever there’s a Class of 2019 reunion, you bet we’ll be there,” Yadegar said. “Obviously, we will be playing ‘September.’ We are starting with ‘September’ and ending with ‘September.’”