Winona State Jazz Ensemble starts school year out on a high note

Allison Mueller

The Jazz ensemble practices for their upcoming performance on Nov. 13 and 14.
The Jazz ensemble practices for their upcoming performance on Nov. 13 and 14. (Photo by Brianna Murphy)

Gina Scott/Winonan

For the Winona State University Jazz Ensemble, the school year is getting into full swing.

With an “Honor Jazz Festival” Nov. 13 and 14, as well as a dance Dec. 4 at the Westfield Country Club, the 18 band members are working hard with rehearsals twice a week.

The Jazz Ensemble started the year off by finding the players’ strengths and weaknesses during the first rehearsal, and working from there.

Richard MacDonald commented on how the ensemble works with each student’s strengths and weaknesses.

“We try finding [music] that works with the students, that’s still enough of a challenge [for them],” MacDonald said.

Each semester they work with a variety of jazz music from all decades and all styles.

“We run the gamut from Duke Ellington all the way up to stuff written within the last ten years,” MacDonald says.

Sophomore Sarah Ortega, a saxophonist and flutist for the ensemble, encourages other students to look into joining Jazz Ensemble.

“Just audition,” Ortega said. “They are always looking for new talent.”

To audition for the Jazz Ensemble, a student needs to register for the class during registration for Spring 2016, which begins in mid-November. Auditions run during the first two days of classes.

“[Students] need to read music, and they probably need to have some experience in high school jazz ensemble,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald believes many students are wary of auditioning for Jazz Ensemble because they think they need to be a music major to join.

Winona State Jazz Ensemble consists of students from a variety of majors and minors. Along with the ensemble, there are other smaller Jazz Combos open for auditions each semester as well.

The Jazz Ensemble gives its players many learning opportunities to experience and grow from, according to MacDonald.

“The Jazz Ensemble is kind of an ambassador of the school,” MacDonald said. “We do a lot of touring.”

The ensemble goes to many festivals around the country to play, as well as to high schools in the region to recruit future players and inform students about continuing with music in college.

Jazz Ensemble creates opportunities for players to network through performing, and they are able to create long-lasting friendships.

“We have alumni that still get together after they’ve graduated to play together,” MacDonald said.

Along with connections to fellow students, players are able to meet talented musicians from different backgrounds.

“WSU always brings in professional musicians,” Ortega says. “Two years ago, I played with David Letterman’s trombonist.”

The biggest part of playing jazz music is the ability to improvise while playing. MacDonald says improvisation is one of the most important lessons the ensemble teaches.

“Improvisation is not just a musical event,” MacDonald said. “It’s the idea of being able to think on your feet.”

Improvisation skills also gives students the ability to negotiate and cooperate with the people they work with.

MacDonald said to truly understand the art created by jazz it must be heard live.

“Because of [jazz’s] informal atmosphere, it really engages students, both players and listeners,” MacDonald said.

The dance being held at Westfield Country Club is free and open to all students on Dec. 4, regardless of their jazz-listening backgrounds.