The three jazz ensembles of the music department will unite and perform together in Friday's Fall Jazz Concert. Courtesy photo.

The Cal Poly Music Department will bring its three jazz ensembles to Alex G. Spanos Theatre once again on Friday night for the Fall Jazz Concert.

The three ensembles on display — University Jazz Bands No. 1 and No. 2 as well as the Cal Poly Jazz Combo — will perform pieces of both standard mainstream and contemporary modern jazz.

Director of jazz studies Paul Rinzler said the audience can expect standard classic pieces from the University Jazz Bands — or big bands — which have about 18 people each, to highly improvised modern pieces from the smaller six-member combo.

“The big band has a printed score, and there’s places for improvisation, but in the combo their printed score is very minimal, usually for the opening and closing melody, and then improvisation is focused on a lot more,” Rinzler said.

Music junior and bassist Patrick Bang, who is in both the University Jazz Band No. 1 and the combo, said he enjoys playing in the combo because of how close the students are to each other and the freedom students get with improvising.

“It’s more intimate so you can be more creative,” Bang said, “Paul picks some of the music for us, but we get to pick our own music too. So we get to be creative with it so we can put our own twists on charts and stuff. But in jazz band, Paul picks all the music, so it’s set.”

However, Rinzler said the big bands were created originally to play set jazz standards with little improvisation.

“When those jazz standards were being composed, the big band was being created at the same time,” Rinzler said. “So those two fit together very well. The more contemporary stuff comes about from later in jazz history when jazz composers began to look at the big band more like a classical composer would look at the orchestra.”

For the University Jazz Band No. 2, Rinzler has planned a few interesting pieces, from standard to creative big band numbers, such as “Cute” by Neil Hefti and “Caravan” by Duke Ellington, he said.

“(Caravan) is a great example of really creative big band writing,” Rinzler said. “All the instruments — at points — they’re all doing different things. He kind of tears the tune apart to bring it back together. That’s a great example of cutting edge repertoire for big band.”

University Jazz Band No. 1, on the other hand, will perform big band pieces on a different scale. Rinzler said one piece, “Great Northern Express,” is innovative in terms of big band repertoire much like “Caravan,” yet it sounds completely different.

“There’s aspects of ‘Great Northern Express’ that are almost like new age jazz,” Rinzler said. “The rhythm in this piece loses a beat every four bars. So it’s like you’ve got a train rolling around and every four seconds, it skips the track and then gets back on the track. So that’s really interesting musically to do.”

And for the combo, Rinzler said “Sugar” by Stanley Turpentine is one of the highlights because of the interesting improvisations the combo has created.

“It’s kind of more of a groove tune — it has some slight rhythm and blues,” Rinzler said. “But what the combo has done is to put kind of a hip-hop rhythm behind that and the piano player changed some of the chords to make them more interesting. It’s a great example of how a combo in jazz really should take a traditional piece and do their own thing with it.”

Bang said he agrees, and said one of his favorite parts about improvising is turning a piece into something unique — without really knowing the direction.

“The person who is improvising — it’s their full creative input in the moment so they’re totally putting their soul into the music,” Bang said. “It just happens and you don’t really know what happened, and it’s a blur. Looking back, it’s like, ‘Woah, that was tight, whatever that was.’”

Aerospace engineering senior Bill Sorenson, who is also in the combo and plays saxophone, said he enjoys how the small group is student-run.

“We have an hour a week with Paul, but everything else is basically to our discretion,” Sorenson said. “A lot of times in rehearsal, we try something. If it works, we work with it, if it doesn’t, we try something else. We do some crazy shit, but at the same time it will eventually come together.”

Rinzler said one of the biggest challenges about directing the jazz groups is the improvisation itself, both for the student and director. For the student, he said, it is the inevitable make-it-or-break-it chance that each musician must face.

“When it comes time to do it in the moment, there’s a chance to hit on a really stellar incredible idea that the audience just screams at (I’ve heard it), and there’s a chance to do something that the improviser says, ‘Oh I wish I didn’t do that,’” Rinzler said.

Yet for the director, Rinzler said the struggle within directing improvisation is the ability to let go and let students be their own directors.

“Once I’ve taught the students, instilled in them what the jazz outlook is and we’ve rehearsed it and practiced it, then it’s the instructor’s job — to some extent — to let go a little bit and say ‘You’ve gotta be on your own, cause we’re talking about improvisations – this is jazz,’” he said. “In order for me to be completely in control, I need to not be in control at some points.”

The show will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $8 for seniors and $6 for Jazz Federation members and students. Tickets are available for purchase at pacslo.org, by phone at (805) 756-2787, or at the Performing Arts Ticket Office.

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