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

The new Harvard Jazz Combo Initiative consists of various jazz combos (of four-eight musicians), open jam sessions, workshops and at least one performance per semester. Each combo meets weekly. 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

Interested students will need to submit via email a recording of themselves playing two tunes:

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

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. 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 September 10, 2019 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.

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.

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.