Artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Holiday, Spike Jones and Duke Ellington all played melodies with hints of improvisation. But not all improvisation is the same.
UW-Whitewater’s Alternative Strings Ensemble and Jazz Labs explore the different aspects of jazz through performances relying heavily on experimentation and improvisation.
The Alternative Strings Ensemble is generally composed of nine to 10 students who enroll in the class.
The ensemble has only been offered as a course for two semesters and is only offered in the spring.
“It’s an ensemble of all string instruments,” junior bass player Jenica Georgeson, who plays in both ensembles, said. “We have set melodies, and we all play these melodies, but then we break off and we improv in the middle of it, and then we come back to the melody.”
The Jazz Labs are different because some students are enrolled to receive credit for their participation, while others are not. Either way, everyone must audition to be in a lab.
There are two groups within the Jazz Labs. Jazz 1 is a quartet that consists of a piano, drums, bass and saxophone. Jazz 2 is a quintet that includes a piano, drums, bass, saxophone and trumpet.
“The Jazz Labs have been around since the 1960s when jazz was institutionalized,” Ensemble Director Bradley Townsend said.
Georgeson said both ensembles are incredibly beneficial for any musician because improvisation allows you to learn and experiment with your instrument. You can learn how to play it in an informal way, she added.
“There are parts where bassists actually drum on their instruments, you never see that written in music,” Georgeson said.
For the first time ever, at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Light Recital Hall, the Alternative Strings Ensemble and the Jazz Labs will perform in a combined concert.
During the first half of the concert, the two Jazz Labs will perform, followed by the Alternative Strings Ensemble in the second.
The Alternative Strings Ensemble will perform an arrangement that two of the members wrote for a contemporary song, along with pieces from John Zorn’s “Mesada,” which is a book of compositions that draws from classical and Jewish contemporary music, among others.
“It will challenge the listener, and that’s what makes it unique,” Townsend said.
Students involved in the Jazz Labs get to pick the music they play. They also write their own music and will be performing an original song for their upcoming performance.
“Each group writes their own tunes so it’s theirs, it defines their sound,” Townsend said.
Every student, faculty and community member is invited to attend the free event and experience jazz music in an entirely new way.
“It’s definitely unique because it’s going to be a variety of stuff,” Townsend said. “There will be something to interest everyone, and it will appeal to a lot of people.”