i attended a performance by a local youth jazz group called the ‘Jazzinators’ on this past Tuesday evening. The group performs on a bi-monthly basis at a local pizza parlor, and as I am scheduled to participate in a jazz festival at this same establishment on Saturday, I thought it would be useful both to listen to the youth band and simultaneously scout the venue.
The band had a broad representation of instrumentation. The instrumentation included drums, bass guitar, bass guitar/banjo tuba, two clarinets, two trombones, two trumpets and two saxophones. The director occasionally helped out by playing trumpet as well. Their repertoire included tunes from a variety of genres as well, as they played tunes from the Big band era such as ‘In The Mood’ and also were able to play tunes representing the Dixieland era. They even mixed in a few more modern charts.
I observed the band for the better part of an hour, and overall, they were quite skilled for a youth group, especially considering that the age of the members was uniformly young- according to the band director, the oldest member of the group is merely sixteen. The band leader was one of the saxophonists, and he did a creditable job of kicking tunes off, and indicating when they should end. While intonation was an issue at times, overall the band is pleasurable to listen to.
Musically, five members of the group stood out- the two sax players, one of the trombonists, the drummer, and the youngster doubling on bass guitar and banjo. While each of these musicians is still very young, they showed that they understood the rudiments of how to play improvisational solos, and they all produced a good sound on their respective instruments. In addition, the drummer, with whom i have played before, for the most part kept a steady beat, without needless embellishing.
The saxoophonists are both able to do a creditable job on solos, though there were the usual lapses where the soloist lost the thread of his thought, as is normal with younger players. However, they did not try to do too much and they both produced a clean sound. The banjo player frankly stood out. Despite picking up the instrument recently, he was able to produce a very creditable sound and his technique was clean. he also played a solid solo at the beginning of one of the group’s medleys. The trombonist’s skills were mostly hidden throughout the performance, but i was able to listen to him afterward and he clearly has some skills, in addition to which he has a better grasp of improvisation than most of his fellow members.
All youth groups have some issues with tempo and volume, and this one was no exception. The group’s balance was dominated throughout by the sax and trombones- the clarinets, despite being miked, and the trumpets were extremely difficult to distinguish. In addition, the group has not quite mastered the idea that not all tunes need to be played at breakneck speed- the most outstanding example was their rendition of ‘In The Mood’, which began in an out of control freight train-like tempo and steadily increased throughout. Experience will almost certainly remedy this issue. Not to say that older and supposedly more experienced musicians do not also make this error. There are some tunes that suck musicians into tempos faster that they were ever designed to be played, and ‘In The Mood’ is certainly one of these ‘trap’ tunes.
Volume is another area that only experience will fix. Almost all young musicians tend to play louder than they really ought to- especially as the tempo increases. if they do not, then they usually play too softly. Both of these tendencies were present in this band, as save for the afore-mentioned clarinet and trumpet sections, the members tended to play at least one volume designation louder than they really needed to- especially on solos. The corollaries of balance and venue are also areas in which the group could use a little improvement. Knowing how to temper one’s output to adjust for the venue and how to best match one’s volume with one’s fellow players are skills that only experience and time will correct. I expect that as the band members gain experience, these areas will cease to be a concern.
Overall, the group performed very creditably. While there are some weaknesses, they are an enjoyable group and have a lot of promise. Their playing was mostly enthusiastic, and they did a solid job of perfroming a number of classic charts froma variety of genres. Well done.