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; multiple sections.

Credits: 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, 1-hour laboratory periods per week: one hour with the instructor, one hour without.
Fridays, 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. via ZOOM

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

Office Hours: Fridays, 2:30 – 3:30 p.m. and by appointment.
I will be working remotely this semester.

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 in jazz combos 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.

Jazz Combos at the University of Connecticut

Jazz Combos Performances:

The following concert dates were scheduled prior to the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Jazz Showcase Concert – Sunday, Sept. 20th, von der Mehden Recital Hall. 3PM CANCELED.
  • Jazz Combos Concert – Sunday, Oct. 25th, von der Mehden Recital Hall. 3PM CANCELED.

Given the current challenges and complexities of meeting online, the Jazz Showcase Concert will be canceled. Depending upon how circumstances unfold, we may attempt to do a short, socially-distanced jazz combo concert in October. Alternatively, we may release and share multi-track recording projects which we have created online. The latter seems more realistic, but we will prepare for either scenario.

Grading, Assignment Breakdown & Due Dates:

During typical semester, concerts serve as a principal means for judging musical development, progression and accomplishment over a period of time within jazz combos. With the uncertainty surrounding publicly presented concerts this semester, we will adopt the following modified system of assessment:

Rehearsal preparedness, participation and professionalism — 10%

For all class meetings, 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, act responsibly & professionally, contribute to discussions, and participate in musical exercises.

Listening Reports — 30%

Students will listen to three albums, selected from a list provided from the instructor. For each of the three albums, a 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).

Albums can be chosen from:

– Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie: Bird and Diz
– Miles Davis: Relaxin’
– Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossis
– Max Roach – We Insist! (Freedom Now Suite)
– Oliver Nelson: Blues and the Abstract Truth
– John Coltrane: Live at Birdland (1963)
– Herbie Hancock: The Prisoner
– Wayne Shorter: JuJu
– Lee Morgan: the Sidewinder
– Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Free For All

Due dates:

  • Monday, Sept. 21 @ 5 p.m.
  • Monday, Oct. 12 @ 5 p.m.
  • Monday, Nov. 2 @ 5 p.m.
Midterm Repertoire Assignment —20%

Songs: Mack the Knife (a.k.a. “Moritat”), Doxy

For each song, video record yourself performing the above listed tunes, utilizing accompaniment from learnjazzstandards.com. Include the following:

  1. Play or sing the head
  2. Improvise two choruses, outlining the form
  3. Rhythm section players must comp (playing in an accompaniment style) for one chorus
    Drummers will make a recording of themselves playing along with the following trio recording by Ron Carter, Mulgrew Miller and Russell Malone: https://youtu.be/VSg2ydyvy_c
  4. Play or sing the out-head

Due Date:

  • Monday, Oct. 5 @ 5 p.m.
Collaborative “SoundTrap” Project —20%

 Using the online software platform, “SoundTrap,” our jazz combos can collaborate remotely, to create multitrack recordings. Specifics pertaining to this project will be divulged once the software license has been acquired by the Department of Music.

Due Date:

  • Monday, Nov. 9 @ 5 p.m.
End-of-Semester Repertoire Assignment —20%

Songs: Sugar, Song For My Father, Bye, Bye Blackbird

Of the three songs listed, choose two. For each song, video record yourself performing the above listed tunes, utilizing accompaniment from learnjazzstandards.com. Include the following:

  1. Play or sing the head
  2. Improvise two choruses, outlining the form
  3. Rhythm section players must comp (playing in an accompaniment style) for one chorus
  4. Play or sing the out-head

Due Date:

  • Monday, Nov. 30 @ 5 p.m.

*The course content, schedule and grading scheme are subject to change at the instructor’s discretion.


University-wide policies (from the University Senate, the Office of Institutional Equity, the Office of the Provost, and Community Standards) pertaining to absences from final exams, class attendance, credit hours, students with disabilities, discrimination, harassment and related interpersonal violence, and the student code, may be accessed at: http://provost.uconn.edu/syllabi-references.

Some useful telephone numbers:

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