Arts & CultureCampus & City

The Master and the Apprentice: U of A Jazz Band

University of Alberta Jazz Band swings back into action with their debut performance at the Education Building's theatre.

The Master and the Apprentice is a column where two people with variable levels of expertise attend the same event. How will their different contexts affect their experience?

There are two types of people in this world: those that get jazz, and those who pretend to.

On February 9, the University of Alberta Jazz Band (UAJB) held their first performance in the theatre of the Education Building. Katie O’Connor — a jazz enthusiast — and Olivia O’Neill — a jazz newcomer — both attended the show. Katie got it, Olivia didn’t — but she pretended to.

We enjoyed the concert and are thankful it is not the UAJB’s last event of the year. They have an upcoming swing dance event, on March 30 in The University Club.


Katie O’Connor: Jazz band was a huge part of my life throughout middle and high school. I vividly remember playing my first solo with cold sweaty fingers on the alto saxophone that I sadly haven’t touched since I started university. I own a vinyl copy of Miles Davis’ 1970 Bitches Brew because I love the record and so that I can impress any other pretentious jazz fans with my knowledge of the experimental deep cuts. 

Olivia O’Neill: My understanding of jazz begins and ends with one man: Miles Teller. Yes, that Miles Teller: the weak-chinned drumming protégé in Damien Chazelle’s 2014 film Whiplash. I live and breathe Whiplash. And by that, I mean I live and breathe Miles Teller playing the drums until his fingers bled. But as far as any, ahem, real jazz experience, I come up with almost zilch. I know jazz is an important part of Black culture. I know it includes important figures like Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald. I know there’s trumpets. But that’s about it.

Song Selection

O’Connor: Kicking things off with “Sonnymoon for Two” by Sonny Rollins, the group swung into their groove quickly. They also featured a funky composition, “Riff Rap” by the late Dominic Spera, an accomplished trumpeter who played with the great Natalie Cole on tour and offered seminars at the U of A. Unlike high school jazz bands whose repertoire is usually limited to the “Pink Panther Theme” and “Chameleon,” I was glad to hear a unique and varied selection of songs.

My personal favourite was “Sophisticated Lady” by Duke Ellington, a ballad with a gentle, sliding melody and beautiful muted trumpets that make you feel like you are in a black and white romance movie.

O’Neill: As Katie drove us both to the concert, I had only one music request: “Caravan.” This’ll impress her, I thought. This’ll show my jazz chops. Maybe if I got control of aux, I could hide the fact that it’s from the Whiplash soundtrack.

Choosing “Whiplash” from the Whiplash soundtrack would be too obvious, too on the nose, would expose me for all of my jazz stupidity. “Caravan” is just obscure enough to flex. It makes me interesting — in the know. Never mind the fact that I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.

All of this to say that I enjoyed the song selection at the concert greatly, although that’s not really saying much. My personal favourite was “Sonnymoon for Two.” It was the perfect way to kick off the concert: it’s fun, upbeat, and instantly identifiable as jazz, even to the untrained ear. It featured each of the instruments well, but especially the drums and saxophones.


O’Connor: During the show, director Tom Dust mentioned that this larger group was actually the combination of two smaller ensembles. With two clarinets, nine saxophones, seven trumpets, six trombones, and a rhythm section complete with piano, guitar, bass and percussion, the sound was full to say the least. I was impressed that in such a large group, I could still hear the counter melodies of lower instruments that often get overpowered by the melodies of trumpets or alto saxophones. 

O’Neill: Halfway through the jazz concert, some sort of mystical musical spirit took over my body. Lack of jazz knowledge be damned, I suddenly found myself struck with a severe case of stank face: the unofficial diagnosis for when one must flare their nostrils and raise their upper lip in the presence of funky music. Although I don’t possess the critical knowledge to pick apart why the band sounded so great, clearly my body knew something that I didn’t — the sound was stellar.

Overall Experience

O’Connor: This performance made me miss the good old days of high school jazz band, the nerves that bubble as you take a breath before the start of the song, and the impulsive nods of approval after each solo. Everyone on stage clearly enjoyed themselves and gave great energy to the performance. The smiles on stage created a wonderful atmosphere so that the audience could join in on the fun.

O’Neill: In the process of writing this article, I’ve been on the fence about including one piece of information. How much am I willing to embarrass myself? How much enthusiasm is too much enthusiasm? Am I about to get myself blacklisted from all future jazz club events?

The truth is, I cried during the jazz band concert. When discussing writing about this piece of information, I conceded to Katie that I would confess that I “shed a few tears.” This was met with immediate disapproval, as she reminded me that I — and I quote — “sobbed.” 

From the first crooning note of “Sonnymoon,” I couldn’t control myself. I’ll admit: I sobbed. Fully sobbed. Like any normal person would. 

Sure, I don’t know enough about jazz to critique song choice or production quality. I don’t know how to distinguish between an alto or a tenor saxophone. To be honest, sometimes I can’t even really remember which one a saxophone is. 

But I do know this: the UAJB is a collective of passionate, dedicated musicians. They come from faculties all over campus and I am certain that they each have incredibly busy schedules. None of them have to be there. No one is forcing them to be there. But there they are. 

From that first crooning saxophone note, all I could think was: what could be more beautiful than that? 

Admission to the UAJB’s next event on March 30 is free at the University Club. The doors open at 6:00 PM and the music will go from 7:00-9:30 PM. There is no dress code or need to register in advance, and if you would prefer to just listen to some jazz tunes, you are welcome to watch instead of dancing. Food and drink, along with UAJB’s merchandise, will be available for purchase at the event. 

CORRECTION: This article was updated March 30 at 10:49 a.m. to reflect that this event is hosted by the UAJB alone. A previous version of this article said it would be co-hosted by the U of A Swing Club. The Gateway regrets this error.

Katie O'Connor

Katie O’Connor is the 2023-2024 Managing Editor at The Gateway. She previously served as the 2022-23 Deputy Arts & Culture Editor. She is in her fourth year studying English and art history. Katie attends every concert that she can, and spends most of her free time traveling, writing, or reading with a cat on her lap.

Olivia O'Neill

Olivia O’Neill is the 2023-24 Opinion Editor at The Gateway. She’s in her fifth year of the English honours program. She loves popular culture, The Smiths, and collecting multiple copies of the same book. If she’s not reading or writing, Olivia can be found trying new recipes, logging movies on Letterboxd, or defending her favourite Gilmore Girls theories with her life. She is Team Jess.

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