Several different scales weave through the air as the John Brown University Jazz/Ensemble warms up during a bi-weekly rehearsal. The drum sets a smooth yet punchy tempo and the rest of the instruments—saxophone, trumpet, horn, bass, piano and percussion—follow suit as they get ready to run through their set.
Suddenly Larry Manos, the Band’s director raises a finger: followed by a moment of silence before the whole room is energized with a joyous blast of jazz.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays 15 students gather in the Berry Performing Arts Center to rehearse for regular performances around campus.
According to Manos, only one of the students currently involved is a music major.
“We normally have two to three engineering majors each year,” Manos said.
Manos described the band as a way for students busy with other academic endeavers to still engage their talent.
“Its gives them the opportunity to continue to play,” he said. “I want it be an enjoyable situation.”
Jazz/Ensemble is offered each semester as a one-credit-hour class.
Students audition to join the group—all have previous music experience. Some played in jazz bands or marching bands at their high schools.
In the fall, the band prepares for the upcoming basketball season. As the University’s pep band, they attend each home game, entertaining the audience in between plays and during halftimes.
In the spring after the basketball season ends, the group focuses on putting together a concert. Held in conjunction with the University Chamber Orchestra, the band plays a selection of jazz pieces.
All of the instruments featured in the band crossover at semester. The current band features: alto saxophones, tenor saxophones, baritone saxophones, trombones, drums, a guitar, a bass and a piano—a standard mix for a jazz ensemble. Manos himself plays the trombone.
Manos described the style of the band as more Big Band.
“We don’t do a lot of free styling or progressive jazz,” he explained. Often popular with professional small jazz ensembles, the size and level of experience of the student group is not conducive to so many loose rules.
Students are allowed to use improvisation during solos
The band was reinstated in 2002 or 2003, according to Manos. The University had had a pep band at some point in the past, but now wanted to incorporate a jazz element.
While the band was previously student-led, this time Manos was asked to lead the group.
His past experience included heading up the band at the Siloam Springs Middle School, and its predecessor, the Siloam Springs Junior High School.
Manos enjoys leading the Jazz Ensemble.
“I love Big Band and jazz,” he said. “I love being around students and watching them learn.”
The Jazz Ensemble will play during a spring concert on April 25.
They will also host a jazz session on the quad during the last week of school.
Manos said that jazz is a different sort of music for students to enjoy.
“It’s more lively, more upbeat—with a lot of fun melodies,” he said. to have a final decision by May.