The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

UWL Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Orchestra perform Winter Jazz Showcase

Ann David
UWL Jazz Combo performs at winter concert on Tuesday, Dec.5 in the Entertainment Cafe in the Student Union.

On Friday, Dec. 1, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Orchestra performed their Winter Jazz Showcase in the Bluffs Ballroom. Both ensembles played holiday charts and big band pieces to close out the semester and bring holiday cheer.

The UWL Jazz Ensemble, directed by Assistant Professor of Music Jon Ailabouni, performed first, playing charts such as Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues” and Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite”, as well as “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” and “The First Noel”.

The ensemble finished their portion of the concert with “Playful”, a composition Ailabouni originally wrote for a jazz quintet for his recently released album “You Are Not Alone” (SkyDeck Music). Ailabouni wrote “Playful” during COVID-19 to capture the carefree and playful nature of his children, as opposed to the amount of stress the pandemic caused.  

Ailabouni arranged the piece from the original version to one with a part for every musician in the ensemble. However, this was no simple task. Ailabouni said, “The challenge was figuring out how to expand the arrangement to include all of the voices that a big band has.” 

He continued, “I was writing this at the beginning of November and our concert was at the beginning of December. I was trying to write it in such a way that it wouldn’t be out of reach [for the students]. Even then, it was still the most rhythmically challenging piece in the program,” said Ailabouni.  

Thomas Greany, a trombonist in the Jazz Ensemble spoke about how special “Playful” was to the musicians.  

“To be able to say that you were part of a world premiere is really a blessing and an honor. It shows the passion and commitment that [Ailabouni] had in us to make it work with only a short duration from when he handed out the piece to when we actually performed it,” said Greany.

The UWL Jazz Orchestra followed the Jazz Ensemble. Directed by Dr. Jeff Erickson, director of jazz studies and professor of music, the Jazz Orchestra played “Doozy” by Benny Carter and “El Abrazo” by Alan Baylock, among others. 

Toward the end of the concert, special guest Dr. Kourtney Austin was invited up to sing Ella Fitzgerald’s “The Christmas Song” and “Winter Wonderland” with the Jazz Orchestra. Austin recently became an assistant professor of music at UWL where she teaches voice lessons and directs the UWL Treble Chorus. 

The concert is the culmination of months of solo practice and group rehearsals. Students in both ensembles reflected on their semester and how far they have come as jazz musicians.

“The biggest thing for me since the start of the school year has been not being afraid to play out more in my part. In jazz, it’s about finding that happy equilibrium where you’re not playing out too much…or holding back too much. I was able to grow by… experimenting with more challenging music and not being afraid of failure,” said Greany. 

Fellow member of Jazz Ensemble, Emma Henricks, mentioned how being a section leader allowed her to grow. 

“This semester was my first being a lead in my section and I’ve really enjoyed taking on that responsibility. The saxophone section was given some pretty challenging pieces for this concert, and I did my best to give my fellow saxophonists some practice strategies,” said Henricks.  

Jazz Orchestra members Dylan Stukins and Leo Chavolla also mentioned participating in UWL Jazz Combos as a way to have fun while becoming more confident as jazz musicians. In addition to concerts during the semester, the Jazz Combos perform around the La Crosse area, including La Crosse Central High School, Capella Performing Arts Center, and The Root Note.  

The Jazz Combo held their second concert and jam session of the semester on Tuesday, Dec. 5 in the Entertainment Café in the Student Union.  

“[Jazz combo] is freer. There’s generally more interaction with the other people in it. There’s more soloing and more chances to do what you want without being in a band with twenty people,” said Stukins. 

Chavolla said, “Since there’s fewer people, there’s less of a need for a rigid system of form and parts. But it can also be… a little bit scary or daunting. It could be… a blessing and a curse.”

The jazz program at UWL has recently seen a change allowing students to add a jazz performance emphasis minor to their music major. Another addition to the jazz program was the jazz performance emphasis recital. This recital gives students with a jazz performance emphasis minor the opportunity to perform in a recital not dedicated to classical music. 

“It’s a really nice opportunity for students to focus on [jazz]. So much of what we do in the university tends to be based on more of a classical tradition. I think jazz is such a unique area with unique needs and we kind of have to be able to serve that as well,” said Erickson. 

Students offered advice to people thinking about joining the jazz program or the music program in general. 

Greany said, “Whether you’re a non-music major or minor, building in courses that can take you away from the stress of school and be able to just be yourself is great.”

“If you’re on the fence about joining jazz at UWL, come to one of our performances!” said Henricks. 

Stukins said, “Grow up, join the jazz program. Everyone is supportive of each other. We all mess up, so you don’t have to take it seriously.” 

Next up for the jazz program is the Big Band Cabaret and Dance Party on Friday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. in the Bluffs Ballroom in the Union. You can register for the event here

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About the Contributor
Ann David
Ann David, Multimedia Editor
  • Year at UWL: Junior
  • PGPs: She/Her/Hers
  • Hometown: Eau Claire, WI
  • Major: English: Medical Professions Emphasis
  • Minor: Biology; Music Performance
  • Other Campus Involvement: UWL Wind Ensemble and Orchestra Member
  • Future Plans after Graduation: Attending grad school in Minnesota
  • Favorite activity in La Crosse: Walking through the Rotary Lights at Riverside Park in the winter with friends.
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