Jazz musicians are friends off the stage … and on it
By Madeleine Mosher
During a jazz band performance before chapel last year, director Chet Jenkins suddenly realized that the band was going to finish a full minute before they were supposed to.
The last part of the last piece was a drum solo, so Jenkins looked at Noah Ramierez, the drummer, and said, “just keep going!”
Ramierez, who was a freshman, said he saw Jenkins wave off the rest of the band and point to his watch.
He understood that Jenkins needed him to extend the song, so he kept playing.
“I just kind of did whatever came to mind,” he said.
When it was time, Jenkins brought the band back in and ended the song.
“I’m glad I was looking up,” Ramierez said.
Ramierez said that trust is involved in playing jazz.
The director has to trust the players and vice versa.
The players have to trust each other, because they’re all responding to each other.
That responsiveness is important in jazz, according to Jenkins.
The dialogue between director and musicians, and between the musicians themselves is all crucial.
Jenkins has directed Cedarville’s jazz band since 2016. He also played in it when he was studying saxophone performance at Cedarville.
He said he loves music from the swing era of jazz, which lasted from the 1930s to the 1940s, and jazz arrangements of pop songs
This year, the band has played 24 pieces, including pieces by Glenn Miller and an arrangement of “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead, among other pieces.
Though this is a hefty number of songs to learn in a short time, Jenkins said, “I don’t get stressed.”
Senior Jordan Clingenpeel, who plays second trombone and has been in the band since his sophomore year, agreed.
“He yells at the jazz band maybe twice a year,” he said.
He added that Jenkins is funny and invested in the band. Jenkins says the players are invested too.
Ramierez described Jenkins as passionate and knowledgeable. When it’s time for rehearsal, he’s zoned-in. The rest of the time, he’s relaxed and “happy-go-lucky.”
They participate in two rehearsals a week, and each separate part of the band attends sectionals where they do more isolated practice.
Jenkins called his players “earnest workers.”
“They work hard to make sure that when we come back for rehearsal,” he said, “things are better every time.”
Clingenpeel said they have fun too, joking around with each other while they’re preparing to play.
“The people in there are awesome,” Ramierez said, “They’re all hilarious.”
This camaraderie is important in performance. Ramierez said much of what happens on stage is in-the-moment, musicians responding to each other.
Ramierez has been playing this kind of responsive music since he was in high school playing with “combos,” which are small ensembles, often made up of a trombone, drums and a bass guitar.
In those groups, Ramierez and his group would pick up ideas from each other.
He does this with solos in the jazz band.
When one of the horn players or the guitarist is playing a solo, Ramierez listens for their rhythms and echoes them on the drums. Or he’ll change the rhythm and the soloist will follow, changing the feel of the piece.
If this wasn’t happening, Jenkins said that it wouldn’t matter how skilled the players were.
“You could have all the chops in the world,” he said. “You could play all over the horn and it’s just gonna sound really boring.”
Ramierez compared responsive playing to “group finger painting,” where the players all have to work together on one canvas, or piece.
There’s a framework, but it’s loose and gives a lot of room for individual and comprehensive creation.
“In no other art form does that happen so well as it does within jazz,” he said.
Madeleine Mosher is a junior journalism major and an Arts & Entertainment co-editor for Cedars. When she’s not watching Amazon Prime, she’s probably at the gym, asking if anyone has food, or falling asleep.