Five jazz combos perform sets in Rugby

By Mary Rose Fissinger and Jessica Barzilay

Ten jazz combos performed songs ranging from John Lennon’s “Imagine” to Josh Redman’s “When the Sun Comes Down” in Rugby Auditorium on Thursday, Feb. 17 and Friday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. 

Thursday’s set featured the Chuck Nelson Band, the Alex Rowland Combo, the Ben Saunders Band, The Ben Krause Group and the Jazz Explorers. Each combo played three to five songs. Musical Director Shawn Costantino spoke at points throughout the night to introduce the combos or talk briefly about the program. 

The show closed with the five-song set of the Jazz Explorers, which consists of Jake Chapman ’12 on vibes and piano, Maguire Parsons ’11 on guitar, Jordan Bryan ’11 on drums, Hank Adelmann ’11 on bass and Alex Scharch ’11 on tenor saxophone. 

“[The show] was cool. We played those songs at a couple of gigs before hand and tonight was a chance to play them one last time before taking on the challenging repertoire we have planned for when the Explorers play at Catalina’s at the end of the year,” Adelmann said. 

Catalina Bar and Grill is a Jazz club in Hollywood the Jazz Explorers will be playing at later this year.

Friday night’s program featured the Swansonians, the Brian Gross Experiment, Martin Riu Plus a Few, the Alkalai Combo and the Advanced Jazz Combo. 

The students wield the majority of control in creative directions and decision-making in the combos, upper school performing arts teacher Shawn Costantino said.

Costantino encourages students to take off creatively in the combos, improvising individually and going beyond the notes and sheet music in front of them, he said. He describes his role as “hands off,” letting the students pick their own music and set up their own performance. Independence is a big part of the program, he said.

“The students pick all of the music and my role is more as an adviser,” Constantino said. “I help them make sure they have learned the song correctly, I help them work on soloing and developing a creative concept and arrangement of what are usually some very complicated pieces.”

Each group prepared a unique set for the performance, representing artists from Cee-Lo Green to Rush to the Beatles to John Coltrane.

“We’re playing a similar set to ones we have played out of school, with more progressive jazz instead of just standard jazz,” Bryan said.

In preparation for the concert, which will be the last combo performance of the year, Costantino has been bringing in specialists both to hone the students’ skills and to expand their horizons.

“I try to kick the intensity level up a gear by bringing in the coaches,” Costantino said. “We have some amazing combo coaches who come in and work with the groups on their group sound, chemistry and ‘vibe.’”

Bryan said the program has deepened his appreciation of music, and has “allowed me to grow in a lot of ways.”

Martin Riu ’13 agreed that the upper school jazz program challenges the student musicians to reach a higher level of musicianship.

“From my experiences even before I was in jazz band, the concerts have always been amazing,” Riu said. “It’s basically professional.”