Jazz Ensemble creates challenging, collaborative environment


The Jazz Ensemble performs Monday afternoon.

Macon Atkinson

University music group Jazz Ensemble I fosters a collaborative and challenging atmosphere­—and swingin’ tunes.

The ensemble, composed of 18 musicians, features 17 men and one woman, Kelsey Parsons, a junior music education major. The ensemble practices together three days per week with additional sectional rehearsals once per week.

For trumpeter Nick Lipsette, a sophomore music performance major, his first semester in Ensemble I has been “totally different” from his past jazz experience.

“I don’t think there is a normal rehearsal,” Lipsette said, laughing. “It’s a different environment, you know, playing with a higher tier group. You learn a lot more and you get to experience a lot more different types of music.”

Graduate performance student Joe Conti, another trumpet player, said variety in rehearsals keeps members on their toes.

“We really don’t know what we’re going to play for the rehearsal so we just sort of have to be prepared to do anything,” Conti said. “We don’t know if we’re going to be doing 12 pieces or if we’re going to get to one piece and spend the whole time on it.”

Band director Todd Wright conducts the ensemble. Wright began working at App State in 1990, according to Hayes School of Music. As director of jazz studies, he teaches courses in jazz improvisation, jazz history and jazz piano, as well as coaching combos.

Zach McRary, a junior trombonist, said Wright is a knowledgeable director.

“He’s a guy that really knows his stuff, I would say that,” McRary said. “He really knows his stuff and he knows what he wants. He’s gonna stick to what he wants no matter what.”

“He’s not afraid to tell us when we’re wrong, when we’re not giving 100 percent or doing it exactly how he sang it for us, or not doing it in the right style,” Conti said.

Conti and Lipsette said music can sometimes be a challenge for the ensemble. McRary said he just started as a section leader for the trombones, so he has to make more stylistic decisions that are sometimes difficult.

“I really have to be on my A-game so that others in the section can hear and properly match me so we can sound good together, as one sound,” McRary said.

Conti said his favorite piece to perform is “Central Park North” because he gets to play “a lot of really high and loud noises.” Lipsette and McRary like “Groove Merchant” because it brings back good memories of their summer trip to Sweden and Norway.

Above all, the students said they most enjoy the collaborative environment of the ensemble. Nowhere is this more evident than onstage, where group members laugh and talk between performances and fist-bump one another between solos.

“We’re a close knit group of guys, and of course Kelsey,” Lipsette said. “If I need help, I know I always have somebody I can grab and work with.”

Conti said they work to bring out each other’s strengths.

“There’s no competition within the ensemble, it’s a collective process,” Conti said. “And we all sort of feed off of each other, and we’re not afraid to say ‘Hey I can’t play this part, why don’t you take this one?’”

Story by Macon Atkinson

Photo by Lynnette Files

Featured Photo caption: The Jazz Ensemble performs Monday afternoon.