Jazz Combos

The jazz combos class is described within the University’s Undergraduate Catalog as:

engagement in the artistic process of performing improvised jazz combo music as a unique, cultural form of human expression.

Course #: MUSI 1120
Fall Semester, 2021
 one credit each semester. May be repeated for credit.
Three semesters of MUSI 1120 fulfill one 3-credit Arts and Humanities Gen Ed requirement. CA1.

Prerequisite: open only with consent of instructor.

Rehearsals: Two hours per week: one hour with the instructor, one hour without.
Mondays, 5 – 6:30 PM. Room 109,
+ one group-led rehearsal per week (at a mutually agreed upon time).

Instructor: Earl MacDonald, Professor and Director of Jazz Studies, UCONN

Office Hours: By appointment, via ZOOM.

Under the guidance and direction of their instructor, students will work together to develop proficiency in the art of jazz improvisation and small group jazz ensemble playing. Collectively and individually, students will concentrate on rhythmic feel, harmonic and melodic language, phrasing, style and learning repertoire. In contrast to conventional Western music ensembles, where interpreting musical notation is emphasized, jazz is learned through becoming acquainted with its extensive aural tradition. Careful examination of recordings is of paramount importance to the musical development of novice, aspiring jazz musicians.

Whether students or professionals, progressive jazz musicians examine the past, write and play in the present, and aim for the future. In keeping with this philosophy, students will prepare and perform a combination of Great American Songbook “standards,” pieces associated with historically significant jazz groups/artists and original music. The instructor will suggest recorded examples for investigation, and will address conceptual, interpretive, and improvisational methods directly pertaining to the repertoire at hand.

The memorization of selected jazz standards will be required, as these are common vehicles for improvisation. (Professional jazz musicians are expected to have hundreds of songs and harmonic progressions memorized, and at their disposal.)

Goals and Learning Objectives:

Jazz combos will offer students the opportunity and incentive to engage in music-making and its reflective practice. In tandem with learning the stylistic nuances and traditions required to perform jazz, students will gain a broader understating of the genre’s historical, social and cultural contexts.

Within jazz combos, the students will…

  • build skills in jazz improvisation and spontaneous musical interaction, as an alternative means of musical expression to Western musical notation practices.
  • be exposed to a variety of jazz repertoire and be able to place it into historical, social and cultural contexts.
  • recognize and understand how jazz has amalgamated with other culturally expressive styles, morphing into new subgenres (Afro-Cuban Latin Jazz, Jazz-Rock fusion, Third Stream, contemporary composition, etc.)
  • identify the stylistic nuances of various jazz styles, through the analysis of audio recordings, videos and in-person demonstrations.
  • present exciting, well-programmed concerts of the highest caliber.

Class Format:

The class will meet weekly on Monday evenings, from 5 – 6:30 p.m., in MUSB 109. The instructor will form students into jazz combos, which will rehearse on their own. Guidance will be given, pertaining to appropriate repertoire selection, suggested recordings, rehearsal techniques and performance expectations. A rotational, in-class performance schedule will be distributed, indicating when each group will perform for their peers. Feedback will be given by the instructor, in master class format, from which all students will glean information. Group discussions may ensue and class participation is expected.

Fall 2021 Jazz Combos:

Nathan Suarez – trumpet
Lily Yontef – tenor sax
Joey Axiak – vibraphone
Brennan Ravenberg – guitar
Isador Palacpac – piano
Peter Tomanelli – string bass
Sean Byington – drums

Brian Oliveira – trumpet
Rishi Nallur – trombone
CJ Dexter – bari sax
David Gladstein – piano
Nick Zavaglia – guitar
TBA – bass
Geordie Emberling – drums

Ryan Francis – alto sax
Thomas Jensen – trombone
Jack Sherman  – guitar
Nick Zavaglia – electric bass
Mathew Chandy – piano
Sarah DiMicelli – drum set

Adam Skarre – alto sax
John Hoddinott – guitar
Brendan McManus – guitar
Ian Givens – piano
Alex Darlington – electric bass


Rehearsal preparedness, participation and professionalism15%
For all rehearsals and performances, students are expected to: have practiced & prepared the assigned music (including listening to preexisting recordings, if applicable), be in attendance and on time, bring the necessary equipment, and act responsibly & professionally.

Listening reports: 15%
Students will listen to three albums, selected from a list provided from the instructor. For each of the three albums, a simple questionnaire form will be completed to convey what was heard and how it relates to common day artistic jazz practices.

Download your listening report questions using the following link: Jazz Combo Listening (MS-Word document). [PDF]

  • Upload your report to the appropriate drop box, below. Label your assignment as follows: Firstname_Lastname – Listening1

Albums can be chosen from the linked list of “top jazz albums of all time.”

Due dates:

Memorization of Standard Repertoire: 30%
For each song:

  • Submit a video recording of you playing the song with accompaniment from learnjazzstandards.com. Play the melody, improvise 3 choruses, play the head out.
  • Without accompaniment: arpeggiate the progression with ascending arpeggios, sing the root motion.
  • Use the drop box, linked to the song title, below.


  • play the head, orchestrated on the drums
  • play along with a classic recording
Due dates:

Solo Transcription: 20%
Transcribe and learn to instrumentally replicate a minimum of one chorus, based on one of the above listed standards. Playing with the original recording, students will video-record themselves performing their transcription, mimicking every stylistic nuance. The recordings will be uploaded for the director’s viewing and assessment. Submitting a written transcription is not required.

Due date:

Performances: 20%
Concerts serve as a principal means for judging musical development, progression and accomplishment over a period of time within ensembles.

Performance Dates:

  • Jazz Showcase Concert – Sept. 19th, 2021, 3 – 4:30 p.m. von der Mehden Recital Hall
  • Combo Concert – Sunday, Oct. 24th, 2021, 3 – 4:30 p.m. von der Mehden Recital Hall
  • Regular “in class” performances (scheduled & posted once groups are formed)

University Policies:

It is the responsibility of all students to acquaint themselves, and to adhere to all university policies. Please review the following:

Students are expected to follow all safety protocols and to keep current with university communications regarding COVID-19.

Some useful telephone numbers:

  • Counseling and Mental Health Services: 486-4705 (after hours: 486-3427) www.cmhs.uconn.edu
  • Career Services: 486-3013 www.career.uconn.edu
  • Alcohol and Other Drug Services: 486-9431 www.aod.uconn.edu
  • Dean of Students Office: 486-3426 www.dos.uconn.edu

Thanks in advance for your enthusiasm and dedication to making great music!  Have an awesome semester!

Click on the red “Jazz Standards” button below to download the 10 standards required for the UConn Jazz jury. The zip file includes transposed pages for concert, Bb, Eb and bass clef instruments.

[easy_media_download url=”https://www.earlmacdonald.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Jazz-Standards-PDFs.zip” text=”Jazz Standards” color=”red_darker”


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