Jazz Combos – Spring 2019

Jazz Improvisation & Performance

Spring Semester 2019
Course #:  MUSI 1116, section 10 (one credit)
Rehearsals: Two hours per week: one hour with the instructor, one hour without.
 Earl MacDonald, Professor and Director of Jazz Studies
Jazz Studies Office: MUSB 207   Telephone: 486-0670
Office Hours: Mondays, 10 – 11AM; Wednesdays, 12:05 – 1PM, and by appointment (room MUSB 207)

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, we 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, we 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. This semester, Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers will be our “ensemble of focus.”

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.)

Scheduled Performance Dates:

  • Jazz Showcase Concert – Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019.  3PM, von der Mehden Recital Hall
  • Combo Concert – Tuesday, April 16, 2019.  8PM, von der Mehden Recital Hall
    “Join us for a posthumous, centennial birthday celebration for the esteemed bandleader and drummer extraordinaire, Art Blakey. Spanning 35 years, Blakey’s Jazz Messengers were undeniably one of jazz’s most influential small groups.”


  • Rehearsal preparedness, etiquette and participation: 15%
    • 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%
    • Outside of class, 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.
  • Memorization of Standard Repertoire: 30%
    • Body & Soul – DUE: the week of Monday, March 11, in rehearsal
    • What Is This Thing Called Love – DUE: the week of Monday, March 11, in rehearsal
    • All the Things You Are – DUE: the week of Monday, April 22, in rehearsal
      • For each song, memorize the lyrics, learn the melody, sing the root motion, outline the harmonic progression with ascending arpeggios, and improvise on the form.
  • Solo Transcription: 20%
    • one chorus minimum, based on one of the above listed standards.
    • Using their smartphones, students will be asked to video-record themselves. The recordings will be uploaded for the director’s viewing and assessment. Submitting a written transcription is not required.
    • DUE: the week of Monday, April 22, in rehearsal
  • Performances: 20%
    • For judging development, progression and accomplishment over a period of time, concerts serve the same function as midterm and final examinations in traditional courses.


  • Attendance: ensemble members are expected to attend all rehearsals and concerts, except in the case of illness or with the prior consent of the instructor. If you must be absent, your arranging for a substitute is expected.  If possible, please notify the instructor in advance. Unexcused absences and repeated tardiness will result in a lowered grade.

*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.

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