By Devinne Stevens
The Knox Student
One of the best gigs in town has to be Knox’s own jazz band. From the formal concerts to jam sessions, the band definitely keeps it interesting. The students themselves also contribute to the energy of the ensemble with their enthusiasm and passion as they perform for a wide variety of audiences.
Each year, the ensemble showcases its talents in a number of performances, including formal fall and spring shows, culminating in the Rootabaga Jazz Festival in the spring. The band strives to compete or play at least one intercollegiate jazz show a year, in places as diverse as the University of Notre Dame, Elmhurst Fest, and overseas. This winter, the band is setting its sights on touring in Barcelona, Spain. The ensemble is looking forward to it not just to see another part of the world, but for the chance to perform for a new crowd.
“Nothing compares with playing to such an appreciative audience,” music instructor and jazz band director Nikki Malley said.
Jazz night is another popular event for members of the jazz band and members of the community, where the top jazz band combo acts as the house band for the night at McGillacuddy’s on Cherry Street. Other combos also have the chance to play, as the set-up of this gig is more of a jam session than a rigidly planned show. These Thursday night shows offer a professional opportunity for students to consistently prepare for a career as a performing musician.
However, it has not always been this way. Two decades ago, the group was much smaller and got together only on weekly basis. The band did not perform nearly as much as it does now and touring was a rarity.
According to Malley, the latest incarnation of the ensemble was created in the early 1990s with the efforts of then-director of Jazz Studies, Scott Garlock. At the time, the ensemble was in need of leadership and he took it upon himself to develop the jazz program into a top-class college band. Under his direction, the band hit the road and began performing at many more festivals. He also took over the lauded Rootabaga Jazz Festival. After his stay at Knox, he encouraged Malley, a Knox alum, to take over in order to maintain the energy and momentum of the program as well as to ensure that the transition would be as smooth as possible.
It looks as though the program is as good as ever. The enthusiasm is evident when the students involved talk about their memories of the ensemble as well as their current feelings toward it. While they vary in naming their favorite parts about the ensemble, they all share a common love for music.
“I joined the jazz band because I wanted to play the music, and that is why I’m still in it today. Actually, that’s probably why everybody who’s in the band joined and continues to be in it,” said junior Corey Heppner, a member of the jazz ensemble. “I know that’s a pretty straightforward and blunt answer, but honestly, we’re all there for the music and there’s not much more to it.”
Heppner also related one of his more memorable shows, where tense nerves led to the band to an interesting release. The band kept the audience on their toes when they ran through the aisles of Kresge, wailing and banging on drums.
Others in the band have more tame takes on their favorite parts of Knox’s jazz ensemble.
Senior bassist Sean Carmichael loves the traveling aspect of playing jazz at Knox and in Galesburg. A member of both the jazz ensemble as well as the local Cherry Street combo, he has been to quite a few music festivals. However, one made a bigger impression than the others.
“My sophomore year the Cherry St. Combo traveled to Indiana for a concert, and it was my favorite musical experience at Knox, because we played extremely good music to a very receptive audience and had a great time doing it,” said Carmichael.
Beyond the traveling and spontaneity, however, there is even more to the jazz ensemble. The students are constantly exposed to new things, be they musical or otherwise, and there are a deep sense of accomplishment that goes along with taking part in the ensemble.
Junior Yumi Kusunoki, who plays trombone for the ensemble, said, “I think it’s great that people with different backgrounds, personalities, and even languages are working together to make music. I love the members and every moment I spend with them.”