Harvard Jazz Combo Initiative

Jazz on the Plaza with Harvard Jazz Bands and saxophonist and composer Don Braden '85 at ARTS FIRST 2019. Photo: Jake Belcher

Please note: the Harvard Jazz Combo Initiative will not be active during the fall 2020 semester. For any questions, please contact Jensen Ling, jzling@fas.harvard.edu, or Don Braden, don@donbraden.com.

The new Harvard Jazz Combo Initiative is intended to provide opportunities for students at various levels to explore America's great indigenous art-form -- jazz! The program consists of various jazz combos (of four to eight musicians), open jam sessions, workshops and at least one performance per semester. Each combo meets weekly, typically on Thursdays (or early Fridays). Open to undergraduate students who will be placed in specific combos groups with students of comparable musical level, the program focuses mainly on instrumental repertoire, but vocalists with a strong interest in jazz should apply for placement in a combo. In addition to exploring classic jazz songs, students will receive guidance in arranging and/or composing for their groups.

The combos are coached by saxophonist/composer/arranger Don Braden '85 who has spent many years performing and recording with touring jazz combos led by legendary musicians Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, Freddie Hubbard and many others.

The primary objectives for these combos are (as with any good ensemble) to improve the students' ability to:

  1. play well the melodies of various types of tunes, both individually and collectively;
  2. improvise creatively over the solo sections of the tunes, using improvisational tools appropriate to their level of musical and instrumental knowledge;
  3. hone general skills in small group performance, including: playing together form-wise, dynamically and in various transitions, phrasing together melodically, complementing and supporting each other harmonically and rhythmically, recovering in case something goes wrong;
  4. develop good listening skills and habits;
  5. embrace comradery, teamwork, leadership, humility and professional behavior;
  6. and, most important, be expressive within the group context musically and emotionally, and experience the joy of doing it.

For any questions please contact Jensen Ling jzling@fas.harvard.edu or Don Braden Don@donbraden.com.

Auditions for Jazz Combo Initiative

The JCI is open to jazz students of all levels, but reasonable instrumental or vocal skills are required. For placement in a combo at the appropriate level, interested students will need to submit via email a recording of themselves playing any or all of the following:

  1. any jazz standard (such as Autumn Leaves, Summertime, etc.)
  2. any jazz blues (such as Now's the Time, Sonnymoon For Two, etc.)
  3. any song of any genre, solidly performed

The recording should include the melody and some improvisation (at any level), and can be a capella, with a live group, or with a play-a-long track of any type. Along with the recording, students should also send their full name, primary instrument played, secondary instruments (if any), number of years playing jazz, and favorite jazz artists. Any further background information is also welcome. Two or more students in an existing combo may submit the same recording, and be considered for placement either individually or as a group (provide specific details via email).

Please submit all recordings by February 10, 2020 to Jensen Ling at jzling@fas.harvard.edu. The recordings may be submitted directly via email as MP3s, or as a link via a standard service such as YouTube, SoundCloud, etc. Videos are acceptable.

There will be an informational JCI Meet and Greet on Thursday, February 6 at 7-10 pm, OFA Common Room (74 Mount Auburn Street). There may be a jam session, so bring your instrument! Combos will begin meeting on Thursday, February 20.

Resources for Combo Initiative Audition Recordings

Here are some lead sheets and sample MP3s that may be helpful in creating an audition recording for the combo program. There are several blues tunes in various keys, and a few basic standards. 

Additionally, here is a YouTube listening list.

Background Information

This program is initiated through the Thomas G. Everett Jazz Innovation Fund, which was established by a gift of Jill Suttenberg Altshuler AB 1987, MBA 1994, and David M. Altshuler MD 1990, PHD 1990. This fund was established to promote jazz education and learning opportunities for Harvard Undergraduate students and has been created in honor of Thomas G. Everett, Director Emeritus Harvard University Bands. Leverett House, in partnership with the program, provides rehearsal and performance space for this initiative.

Mission: The purpose of this initiative is to create opportunities for students to participate in jazz combos and to enhance both the presence and quality of jazz performance in the Harvard community.