General News

Wednesday Night Peabody Students’ Open Rehearsals at Eubie Blake Center

[Photo Credit: Will Kirk]

We all know what a rehearsal is, but what is an open rehearsal? Essentially, the “open” means that the public is invited to observe a performing arts group practicing, often for an upcoming concert, recital or show–sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee.  If you do a search on “open rehearsals, most results will be about symphony orchestras (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra included), with fewer listings for youth ensembles, ballet companies and the occasional Broadway musical. Open rehearsals by jazz ensembles are rare. In fact, only two came up in my initial search -­ Philadelphia Youth Orchestra’s jazz big band and Baltimore’s own Peabody Graduate Jazz Ensemble (PGJE).

PGJE’s open (and free) rehearsals take place on Wednesdays, 5 pm in the fourth floor concert space at Eubie Blake Cultural Center at 847 N. Howard Street. I observed the February 14 rehearsal, two days before the band’s performance at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival in Rockville. 

As the ensemble’s eight musicians (all graduate students except one) took their places beneath an immense photo of a smiling, cigarette-smoking Eubie Blake, I noticed their slightly unorthodox lineup, with two trombones bookending trumpet and tenor saxophone (the “front line” of horns typically includes trumpet and saxophone or trumpet, saxophone and one trombone). Another welcome difference between this ensemble and many was that the only amplified instrument was the bass. Pianist Hannah Mayer was the ensemble’s only undergraduate. Two drummers alternated. The graduate students hail from an impressive list of undergraduate music programs– Berklee College of Music, Indiana University, The Juilliard School, The New School, University of Cincinnati, and University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

All graduate student members of the ensemble receive masters’ fellowships. A major hallmark of the fellowship program, which was created by Sean Jones, the Richard and Elizabeth Case chair of jazz studies at Peabody, is that all fellows are expected to compose and have their work performed. On February i4, the ensemble rehearsed compositions by bassist Gabriel Rupe, trumpeter Emerson Borg, tenor saxophonist Andrew Kreitner, trombonist Spencer Merk, and drummer Paul Jung. Most, if not all of these compositions would be performed at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, although this was only the first or second time the students had rehearsed them. One of the five audience members– a songwriter named Paulette, who had missed the beginning of the rehearsal–was amazed to learn that these were all student compositions.

Since February 14 was Valentine’s Day, Sean Jones wore a fire-engine red sport coat with matching eyeglass frames. In contrast to his flamboyant outfit, he began with a mundane task–timing the first tune–but when that tune was over, he quickly followed up with enthusiastic feedback: “The band sounds great. It feels like it’s turning into something else now. The level of communication is the highest it’s been. You can feel it. You’re starting to be a band.” Jones also directed feedback to individual ensemble members. He asked pianist Hannah Mayer, “Have you been listening to Jaki Byard?”; to bassist Gabe Rupe: “Great tune. Brilliant solo.”; to drummer Paul Jung: “Nice recovery.” In his feedback to the entire group about tempos, dynamics and becoming a band, Jones invoked lessons from Count Basie, Miles Davis, and pianist Geri Allen, with whom Jones played trumpet. As the rehearsal came to a close, just before 7 p.m., Jones made the classy move of applauding the audience–another great lesson for tomorrow’s jazz professionals.

–by Bob Jacobson

Bob Jacobson plays saxophone and clarinet and leads combos “Sounds Good” and “Swing ‘n’ Samba.” He has written numerous articles for the BJA newsletter. He is a mostly-retired social worker who still dabbles in counseling, freelance writing, teaching, and writing about music.  He was vice president of BJA for 12 years.

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