Truman State University is home to several music groups, but on Feb. 29, two in particular got their moment in the sun: Jazz Lab Band and Jazz Ensemble, led by faculty advisor Tim AuBuchon. Every year, the music honor fraternity Phi Mu Alpha hosts JazzFest, a weekend-long experience where jazz combos and ensembles can play in front of judges to get specific feedback.
The event involves multiple performances from middle schoolers to professional entertainers, culminating with a concert featuring University jazz players and a guest artist. Truman’s Jazz Lab and Jazz Ensemble each encompass 16-18 piece crews, performing respectively with on campus guest artists and at off campus venues. JazzFest gives both the ability to showcase their skills in front of a broad audience of peers, young musicians and experienced composers.
Freshman Miranda Lee, a music performance and education major, said she has enjoyed her time playing trumpet in Jazz Lab and explained that she wanted to join because of her jazz band experience in high school.
Here at Truman, Lee finds as much joy in the ensemble’s music as its leadership.
“Mr. AuBuchon is a blast to work with,” Lee said. “He’s funny and also very knowledgeable.”
Also a part of Jazz Ensemble are freshmen Sam Weaver and Connor King, who play alto saxophone and trombone, respectively. Both mentioned how they also wanted to join because of prior jazz band backgrounds.
Though his high school jazz endeavors drew him toward the band, Weaver’s section is now what keeps him there.
“They’re super fun to be around and talk to,” Weaver said.
Tim AuBuchon, assistant professor of music and jazz studies, has been involved in coordinating JazzFest for several years and always enjoys watching the progression of student jazz musicians he prepares for the event.
AuBuchon expressed specifically the satisfaction that comes with watching his band members gradually master the music and understand it on a deeper level.
“There’s a lot to learn with jazz,” AuBuchon said. “It’s a pretty deep subject. There’s a really high degree of rhythmic complexity sometimes, and harmonic complexity. Musically it can be kind of hard, so it’s really nice to see people learn something and have that a-ha moment.”
AuBuchon works with the campus jazz groups featured in JazzFest to both practice for the event as well as relate their knowledge and love of the music style to a wider perspective.
While it can be fulfilling to see students comprehending compositions, AuBuchon suggests it is even more gratifying to watch them apply those principles to their own lives.
“I enjoy just watching them grow and really learning to appreciate the music,” AuBuchon said. “It’s not always the kind of music that people have listened to a lot before they come to college, and maybe in their free time, but I especially enjoy it if they start listening when I don’t make them, just recreationally listening to the music. It’s really nice when they get to that point that they’re interested enough to learn on their own. That’s ideal, as a teacher. That’s the ultimate goal.”
There have been several memorable moments for AuBuchon over the years during his time with JazzFest. Each year offers chances for performance and learning, as well as similar opportunities outside the event itself.
AuBuchon said he especially enjoys playing at the judges jam hosted by DuKum Inn the night before each festival, in addition to the culmination of each band’s efforts the following days.
“It’s always a lot of fun to get to play at the DuKum with some of my peers and then the guest artist,” AuBuchon said. “It’s a good time. I enjoy that a lot, but I also enjoy the evening concert. The performances are the payoff for all the work and stress, so those are my favorite.”
The concert that AuBuchon and his jazz groups rehearse for is in conjunction with JazzFest’s selected guest artist. This year the festival introduced Shane Endsley, who plays trumpet and percussion and also composes.
AuBuchon said he appreciated Endsley’s less conventional approach to jazz and what it brought to those in attendance, in addition to his students.
“His music is very modern and it incorporates lots of sort of rock,” AuBuchon described. “It’s hard to label music, but I think his label would be something like a post-rock jazz musician. He has a wide range of interests, and this is really typical of jazz right now. People sometimes will be kind of delving into hip-hop rhythms.”
This developing shift in the jazz world was well-represented at this year’s 52nd Annual JazzFest, AuBuchon said, bringing a new element to the longstanding event.
AuBuchon said Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Lab have been in the process of implementing this pioneering style to broaden their skill sets in the genre.
“Especially big band jazz people think about the swing era, 1930s, company scene, and that’s great,” AuBuchon said. “We do a lot of that through the year. It’s still a large chunk of the big band repertoire, but there’s certainly a lot of other stuff, too.”
This additional jazz insight is exactly what Endsley provided to all students at the event. Through performance coordination and clinics, jazz players at all levels were able to take advice from the internationally recognized musician.
“I try to get [artists] who are good at teaching,” AuBuchon said. “Watching them interact is always, for me, a great part of the year — having someone there for students to say, ‘This is the real deal.’ They get to play with [the artist] and critique students playing. It’s definitely a unique experience and always kind of a high point for the jazz year.”
That year is not over yet for Truman’s jazz musicians. While March is spent planning for subsequent shows and recovering from the last, April is full of events that are open for all to enjoy.
Fans can look forward to a Jazz Combos concert for more improvisation and student composition in mid-April, followed by another big bands ensemble like the one this past weekend. The semester will conclude, weather permitting, with a performance on The Quad during the last week of classes.
Jazz students and faculty hope events like JazzFest and ensuing performances can act as a springboard to the future and a platform to shine.