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Great jazz never repeats itself

GVSU Jazz Orchestra brings improvisation to performance


Performing music live in front of an audience can be a nerve-wrecking experience, but imagine performing live and making up the melody on the spot.

The Jazz Orchestra will perform its first concert of the school year on Oct. 15, and soloists will have to bring improvisation to the pieces.

The motto “A great jazz performer never plays the same thing once” is one Tim Froncek, affiliate professor at Grand Valley State University and director of the Jazz Orchestra, takes to heart when playing music and directing students.

Voted “Jazz Musician of the Year,” in 2004 by the West Michigan Jazz Society, Froncek chooses arrangements for the orchestra that are based on various soloists in the band. “The selections are very challenging for the improvisers,” Froncek said. “I like to present traditional arrangements that are from the big band repertoire, and I also like to look for new arrangements that come out every year.”

Senior musical performance major Joshua Dreyer has been playing drums since the age of 10 and is part of the orchestra.

“Jazz is different every time and there’s a lot of room for flexibility and freedom,” Dreyer said. “Some things are predetermined, and hopefully that’s the same every time, but within that there is always room for interpretation and there’s always dedicated parts of the song where people make stuff up—it’s never the same.”

Performing live is always an experience, especially when unexpected things happen.

“Sometimes we do better than other times, but you get used to improvisation, and you get comfortable with the different ways you can approach improvisation, and hopefully, it also sounds good at the same time,” Dreyer said.

Students have spent a lot of time preparing for the concert not only as a group, but individually, as well. Each soloist spends hours in practice rooms.

Froncek and Dreyer’s favorite tune for this concert, “Jackson Square,” is based on the traditional rhythms from New Orleans.

“Our drummer, Dreyer, is killing it,” Froncek said. “I just can’t stand still.”

With jazz, the point is to try to play it differently every time, unlike classical music, where the point is to regenerate the original piece as precisely as possible.

“You can play the same song five times at five different concerts, or have five people play the same song, and it can sound completely different,” Dreyer said.

For Froncek, the best part of performing jazz live is the audience’s response. He said if he can get listeners tapping their toes and smiling, he knows he’s done his job.

The Jazz Orchestra concert will take place from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in the Louis Armstrong Theatre in the Performing Arts Center. More information about this event can be found at the GVSU website.



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