The Thomas Hall Performing Arts room on Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. is sonic chaos.
Ragtime dances across the piano while blue notes ease their way out of a nearby saxophone. At the same time a drumroll across the room thunders on, keeping time only for its own sake.
Each member of the Manhattan College jazz band is warming up, and each to its preferred style within the genre. Yet loosening up with these seemingly clashing sounds and competing rhythms is fitting for a band that isn’t defined by just one type of jazz.
“We are not just a big band as you would see with Glen Miller or Benny Goodman. We don’t exclusively play Latin charts. We try to really have a rounded repertoire,” senior Greg Zajac, math major and drummer in the band, said.
“A lot them are really difficult. A lot of them are standards. A lot of them are sort of funk or rock tunes that have been adapted to fit the jazz idiom. But it is good, we do have a variety of charts.”
Zajac, also the group’s public relations officer, estimates that the average member of the band will learn between 60 and 70 different songs over the coarse of four years.
This is evident in the thick folder full of sheet music each musician has sitting in front of them.
As the group keeps warming up, band director Geoff Mattoon passes out a new song for the group to add to their collection.
Finally the cacophony stops. Mattoon, who leads the practices by playing along with his own saxophone, stands up with an iPad. Facing each band member one-by-one, he has them check themselves with a digital tuner app.
Once each member of the ensemble compares notes with the app, it is time for the clashing warm-ups to transform into a harmonious music.
The group starts by playing the song “Oleo,” made famous by saxophone legend Sonny Rollins. “It’s a good closer,” Mattoon tells the band.
After listening to a recording of the song, the jazz band gets to work. With “a one, a one, two, three, four,” cheeks puff out and fingers skip along keys as music fills the room and spills out into Thomas Hall.
Like the performing arts room itself, most of the band members have multiple roles within the music community at Manhattan College.
Senior Adrienne Perea, alto saxophonist and president of the jazz band, also juggles playing with the pep band and the jazz quartet.
“It teaches you time management,” she said. “It’s all fun, that’s why we are here. We want to make music and we want to have fun.”
Still, the band members are clearly serious musicians. As they practice, Mattoon will frequently stop the group and have them run through a specific section of the song several times in a row until it is perfected. They perform for the public four times a year, next on Dec. 8 for their winter concert.
For the large portion of their two hour long weekly practice, the band runs through just “Oleo,” experimenting with different backings, instrumentation and various solos.
Eventually, the band moves onto the new song that was passed out at the beginning of practice.
“Only So Much Oil in the Ground” is a funky, riff-filled track first performed by 70s jazzy soul group Tower of Power.
As Mattoon previews it for them over the speakers, the group is clearly excited to add it their repertoire. Heads nod, toes tap and some already start running their fingers through the notes on saxophones and trumpets.
It is evident that the group shares a love of music, even if some are relatively new to the genre of jazz. Long-time pianist Ryan L’Abbate only started playing the genre when he came to MC.
“I always wanted to learn jazz, but didn’t know anything about jazz at the time so I figured it would be a great way to learn,” L’Abbate, a junior chemical engineer and the band’s secretary, said.
The other interesting but not as obvious commonality among the band members is their choice of majors.
“The majority of students in jazz or pep band are engineering or some other intensive major, be it math or biology–it’s interesting,” Andrew Bauer, director of music and performing arts at the college, said.
One wouldn’t think that such analytical, structured minds would excel at a genre known for improvisation and creative thinking. But all you have to do is listen for the proof.