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Jazz, open mic expose creativity

October 26, 2006

As the jazz chart jams in the background, some people chatter and others work on homework in the mood-setting lighting. Still others are tuning instruments or rehearsing in their heads. Sound like a chic uptown café ? Or Brandy’s?

Two Tuesday evenings every month, it’s Brandy’s with the Jazz Arts Collective.

Originally titled “Live Jazz and Open Mic,” the event is now part of the Student Entertainments and Arts Committee (SEAC).

“They’re a really new, cool addition,” UW RF Event Coordinator and SEAC Advisor Karyn Kling said. “They’re such talented musicians.”

The nights are filled with house band performances, as well as opportunities for people to take advantage of an open mic setting.

Senior Anthony Bloch, who is in charge of the event and plays drums in the house band, said the goal of the group is to “enrich the community and campus with jazz art.”

The four-instrument house band begins each evening with a few jazz charts.

“The band is awesome,” Bloch said. “People should show up.”

After the house band breaks the ice, the mic is opened and names are called off a sign-up list.

Those performances are often broken up with more house band sets.

Bloch said on a slow night the audience consists of about 40 people.

The open mic has seen many different faces and performances. Bloch said people have performed hip hop, poetry readings and original guitar pieces, among others.

To encourage people to come and perform anything they want to show off, the flyers and a Facebook group invited people to come and “poop in a bucket.”

Bloch said he was only partially joking.

“We always want people to come out and try new things,” Bloch said. “Anything anyone wants to do, come and do it.”

Eric Possehl, a senior who plays the saxophone in the house band, said, “Everyone there is pretty well open-minded,” and open to new performance ideas.

“We’re there to hear things we’ve never heard before,” Possehl said.

He recalled one world music performance where Indian music was played.

“It was a different feel than what we’re used to,” he said. “It was cool.”

Freshman Abel Johnson said he loves jazz and thinks the opportunity to listen to live jazz and perform some of his own work is “an amazing idea.”

“Jazz is such an emotional genre of music,” he said. “If this wasn’t already here I probably would have started one myself.”

Mike Defenbaugh is also a regular attendee at the Jazz Arts Collective. In addition to performing on his trumpet or flugelhorn once in a while, he said he enjoys just going and taking in the experience.

“It’s a prime opportunity to see some really cool ideas,” he said.

Another draw, Defenbaugh said, is being able to listen to student musicians.

“People can see what’s going on on campus and support their friends and peers,” he said.

If performing alone is intimidating or unappealing to people, Possehl said attendees can ask to perform with the house band.

As a true jam session would work, “We never decide what to play ahead of time,” he said. “There’s so much to play.”

The house band also takes requests from the audience, where invariably the Lynyrd Skynyrd piece “Freebird” will be thrown out.

“Freebird” is more than 16 minutes long, and has become an inside joke between bands and music junkies.

Bloch said the group is trying something new this year by designating one of the bi-monthly performances a tribute to a dignified jazz artist.

Tuesday was the first one with the dedication going to the famous jazz artist Thelonious Monk. Monk is often considered the father of bebop through his jazz compositions and piano playing.

The group was uncertain of other performers to commemorate in the future, but wants to make it a regular affair.

Inspired by last spring’s farewell performance with local professional jazz artists, Bloch is planning to host another big event, bringing in more professionals to jam with the group in the future.

Defenbaugh said he remembers last year’s event as one of his favorites.

“They brought local artists and professors down,” he said. “It was awesome.”

The house band consists of Bloch on the drums and Possehl on the saxophone, UW RF alumnus John McClean on bass, and student Eric Thompson on guitar.

With two members soon graduating, Bloch is hoping to “pass the torch” on to Thompson.

“We just want to give people who like to perform a place to do it,” he said.

Possehl said he hopes to make it back to the performances next semester when he is student teaching.

“I hope it will continue,” he said. “We want to keep it for as long as we can.”

Now that the group is a part of SEAC, it may be easier for that to be done.

“It’s really great to be part of SEAC; they’ve helped us out a lot,” Bloch said. “They have really enthusiastic ideas.”

The next session is on Nov. 7. Visit the Jazz Arts Collective Facebook group Web site (Live Jazz! and open mic) for further information.