By MAREN HUN
The jazz program at BYU has a lot to offer, music students and faculty members say.
BYU’s jazz program is recognized around the nation, C. Raymond Smith, the director of BYU jazz ensembles, said. Smith said that when people hear that he is part of the jazz program at BYU, they say, “Oh yes, I know about that program.”
Synthesis, one of BYU’s jazz groups, is particularly recognized. Smith said that the performance level of the musicians in Synthesis makes the group competitive with the best groups in the United States. Synthesis has played and placed well at almost all of the major competitions, he said.
Part of what makes the group so successful is the high-quality education jazz students receive, Smith said. With jazz improvization classes, jazz history classes, and jazz arranging classes, BYU has a full program, Smith said.
Jazz musicians at BYU also have many opportunities to perform, Smith said. Synthesis tours every other year and has been to China, Japan, Europe and the former Soviet Union.
This year Synthesis will compete in the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland and the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
Smith said the community has given a lot of support to the jazz program at BYU. The Faculty Jazz Quartet had to move their program from the
Madsen recital hall to the de Jong concert hall because the 450-seat recital hall couldn’t hold everyone who wanted to see the quartet perform.
Despite community support, Smith said the groups at BYU must constantly educate the public about jazz. He said they must constantly renew their audience as jazz fans graduate and move away from BYU.
“Jazz is a lot of different things,” Smith said.
He added that people who might not like one style of jazz could absolutely love another variety.
The variety of jazz combos at BYU gives people the chance to hear different types of jazz. BYU’s eight jazz combos range from salsa groups to beebop groups and from mainstream jazz groups to fusion groups (groups that play a combination of rock and jazz).
Students also learn vocal jazz and perform with the vocal jazz ensemble Syncopation. Smith said that the vocal jazz program at BYU is in its early stages, but has become a credible program.
BYU also has three big band groups that play different styles of jazz.
R. Steven Call, the coordinator for the combo program, agreed that the large number of jazz groups contributes to the strength of BYU’s jazz program. He said combo groups help students develop important improvizational skills, which are essential to the development of musicians.
Another key to students’ success in jazz is the excellent classical instruction they receive at BYU, Call said. He said that students must learn about the classical side of their instruments and voices as well as about jazz. This provides a good fundamental structure for them, he said.
Call said BYU has the means to train very high-caliber students, so they are able to recruit good students.
For example, Michael Vance, a senior from Woodland, Wash., majoring in saxophone performance, was one of five young artists presented at an International Jazz Educators Association convention. Other performers who have had this honor include Harry Connick, Jr. and Wynton Marsalis — now famous jazz artists.
Vance said one reason he chose to come to join BYU’s jazz program was because of the excellent faculty. He said he that when he met Ray Smith, he was impressed with his lifestyle.
Smith attributed part of the jazz program’s success to the atmosphere at BYU: “Students get to learn jazz in a wholesome environment, where people have a testimony.”
He said that the spiritual experiences jazz performers can have at BYU are a valuable part of their education