Jazz Combo integrates global influences and original compositions in fall concert

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Members of the Jazz Combo combined classic jazz pieces with compositions of their own in their recent performance. (Photo by Emma Sylvester ’25)

Tanushree Sow Mondal, Staff Writer

An upbeat blend of piano, drums, horns and bass reverberated through the Williams Center for the Arts as the Jazz Combo performed their fall concert this past Monday.

The concert showcased nine musicians and incorporated music by Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver and Freddie Hubbard, as well as an original composition by one of the group’s own members, Zach Freiheiter ’23. 

Jazz Combo is a performance ensemble that focuses on different styles of music across subgenres of jazz music, including swing, Afro-Cuban music, Brazilian music and more. According to Director Thomas DiCarlo, the ensemble’s small size mirrors how many great bands in the history of jazz music, like the Miles Davis Quintet, Cannonball Adderley Quintet, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, involved five to nine musicians.

“We usually include bass, piano, drums and whatever horns or any other instruments that are a part of the rhythm section. For example, last night we had steel drums, saxophone and myself on trumpet. This semester, we have three drummers, two pianists, one of everyone else,” Freiheiter said.

In reference to the pieces chosen performed at the concert, DiCarlo said that he wanted his students to be fluent in the language of jazz and learn about the “idioms of jazz music, how to swing, the history, the great composers, musicians, bands and songs of this great music we call jazz.”

For DiCarlo, playing the right notes is only one part of a great performance.

“Presentation, stage presence, fashion and communication with the audience are the other parts of that equation. I help the students with correcting notes, articulation, sound, intonation, blending, form, arrangements, et cetera,” DiCarlo said. “I also teach them how to perform a program of music, to have a flow between songs, a continuity for the listener.”

DiCarlo further expressed that he wanted students to be independent and comfortable on stage, which translates to a great performance as well as a full experience for the audience.

The Jazz Combo’s fall concert drew inspiration from around the world. Freiheiter noted that most jazz comes from African music that was adapted by 20th-century musicians in America, and the influence of African music in their performance pieces is evident. Freiheiter’s original composition was inspired by Japanese composer Yasunori Mitsuda, who is best known for his works in video games.

“I really loved his one song, ‘Memories of Dreams.’ So, I looked at the harmony of it and used a very similar harmony. I added some parts, and I used that as the basis, and then I had to come up with a melody,” Freiheiter said.

The flexibility and active involvement of members in deciding the music and leading the group is another unique aspect that characterizes Jazz Combo. DiCarlo noted that students are highly encouraged to compose their own music and bring it to class.

Similarly, Freiheiter noted that more than half of the songs in the concert were pieces that the members suggested to DiCarlo that they wanted to play. For example, Horace Silver’s piece “Nutville” was a suggestion by drummer Jordan Leiber ’22. 

“It’s a really fun way to do the ensemble because if each person brings something they love to the table, everyone else will want to make it good because someone really wants that one song,” Freiheiter said.

DiCarlo highlighted this sense of camaraderie between the members as one of the main reasons that the ensemble works so well.

The performance was outstanding because not only was the music played well, but [the students] also had a stage presence that made it an enjoyable musical experience for those who attended,” DiCarlo said.

Those interested in Jazz Combo can contact DiCarlo at [email protected].