Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Field notes on Wednesday combo

The combo rehearsal takes place at Fulton hall on wednesday afternoon from four o'clock to five thirty, during which they practice four tunes(two with vocal). Fulton hall is located on the east side of Brown Campus, among the music department buildings, and also right next to Grant Recital hall, where the final performances will be held.
The combo group consists of nine people including a pianist, a drummer, a bassist, a singer, a violinist, a guitarist, two saxophone players, and a trumpeter. Notably this is the largest among five combo groups on campus. Their coach, Ron is a well known jazz pianist and other than leading the combo he also teaches piano lessons for the Applied music program.
While I arrived at the Fulton hall, half of the group already arrived and were unpacking their instruments. The atmosphere seemed very chill. The rehearsal started right away after they had taken their usual seats in a circle, below is a diagram illustrating their voluntary seating arrangement.
Ron is usually standing in the middle of the circle walking around constantly paying attention to each individual players and making suggestions. He also tend to walk outside of the circle every once a while and observes the whole group performance. While he gives suggestions to individual player, he often goes really close to the player and makes intense eye contact. He use lots of hand and body gestures to illustrate his advice, such as touching his head meaning raising the volume, and stomping his feet as guide for a particular groove he wants for a specific player. He also uses whistle to pause this the whole band from playing and gives instructions.
The first part of the first tune was repeated for almost 8 times as Ron thinks the band did not get the particular feel the piece represents. He explained to the group that it is the "bop" feel they should aim for, and different from "swing"'s triplet feel, "bop" is a little harder and sort of in between triplet feel and eighth note feel. As he speaks more about it, the rhythm section(piano, guitar, bass and drum took notes on the side of their lead sheet. Others looked rather anxious.
Ron also commented that he did not want random people filling in the empty parts of the tune. He asked the band if anyone would like to write a background counterpart for the tune. Nobody seemed to be willing to take the role except the violinist, who certainly has lots of music theory background since he is constantly harmonizing everyone else's solo.
The second tune was a Chinese 80's song, which was written for jazz performance by the singer, Amos, who grew up in China. After the first singer section, it happened that no one voluntarily took the solo, after two measures, the saxophonist took the role. During the third section, everyone started to whistle the melody, but Ron paused the band and commented that he thought the band is holding back therefore the whistle is not completely in tune. He questions if they should still keep the whistle section. According to him the whistle adds to the light heartiness of the song( while he said that he turned to the singer for confirmation), but if the band is hesitating because some of them do not know how to whistle it can sound bad during performance. In the end they agreed to keep it until next rehearsal and make decisions then.
During the rehearsal overall, the energy flow is relatively high. Everyone is on top of their own chops and listening to each other carefully.

1 comment:

  1. This was fascinating to read about! I was contemplating going to a jazz combo rehearsal, since I am also doing my research on jazz. And actually, I just started taking jazz piano AMP this semester and Ron is my teacher so these were extra interesting field notes to read—I would have loved to have been there! I wonder what piece they were practicing. This combo group also stood out to me because of the size and the instrumentation you pointed out, which all seems interesting. Sounds like a great project!