Jazz Combos – Spring 2020

Jazz Improvisation & Performance

Spring Semester 2020
Course #:  MUSI 1116, section 10 (one credit)
Rehearsals: Two hours per week: one hour with the instructor, one hour without.
Fridays – 12:20 – 1:10
Instructor: Earl MacDonald, Professor and Director of Jazz Studies
Jazz Studies Office: MUSB 207   Telephone: 486-0670
Office Hours: By appointment (room MUSB 207)

COVID-19/Post-Spring Break Guidelines:

Upcoming Assignments and Grading:

The grading scheme presenting in our course outline remains more or less the same:

  • Rehearsal preparedness, etiquette and participation: 20%
  • Memorization of Standard Repertoire: 30%
  • Solo Transcription: 20%
  • Performances: 30%

Memorization of Standard Repertoire:

  • What Is This Thing Called Love: this was completed on 2/28 and everyone in attendance earned an ‘A’ grade.
  • For the remaining 2 tunes, send Prof. MacDonald a video by 12 noon on the dates listed below. The video will consist of you doing the following, with accompaniment from learnjazzstandards.com, ideally without stopping:
  1. Play the head
  2. Arpeggiate the chords in ascending arpeggios
  3. Sing the root motion
  4. Improvise one or two choruses
  5. Play the out-head
  • Anthropology– DUE: April 10.
  • Recordamé – DUE: April 17.

Solo Transcription:

  • one chorus minimum, based on one of the above listed standards.
  • Using your smartphone, video-record yourself. Submit 2 recordings; one of you playing along with the solo, and the other unaccompanied. The recordings will be uploaded for the director’s viewing and assessment. Submitting a written transcription is not required.
  • DUE: Friday, April 24 by 12 noon.



  • The jazz showcase concert will count as 15% of the 30% allocated for your final grade. (Everyone earned an ‘A’ grade.) The final 15% will be earned by submitting a video of you playing our designated V to I lick in all spots where it can be inserted into our 3 tunes. Play only one chorus, with recorded accompaniment. You may improvise “in the holes” but you must play the lick in all the correct spots. Alternatively, you may opt to rest in the measures which don’t reflect V to I. Due: Friday, April May 1 by noon.


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.

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. 16, 2020.  5PM, von der Mehden Recital Hall
  • Combo Concert – Thursday, April 9, 2020.  8PM, von der Mehden Recital Hall


  • Rehearsal preparedness, etiquette and participation: 20%
    • 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.
  • Memorization of Standard Repertoire: 30%
    • What Is This Thing Called Love – DUE: Feb. 28th, in rehearsal
    • Anthropology – DUE: April 10, in rehearsal
    • Recordame – DUE: April 17, in rehearsal
      • For each song, memorize the lyrics (if applicable), 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 Friday, April 24
  • Performances: 30%
    • 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.

Some useful telephone numbers:

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